66 pages 2 hours read

Aiden Thomas

Cemetery Boys

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2020

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Summary and Study Guide


Cemetery Boys is a young adult urban fantasy novel written by Latinx American author Aiden Thomas. Published in 2020, their debut work is the first book by a transgender author featuring a trans character to be on the New York Times Bestseller List. Cemetery Boys has won numerous awards and was also named book of the year by NPR, Barnes and Noble, and Publishers Weekly.

Please note: Cemetery Boys contends with a transgender teenager’s unaccepting family and includes instances of misgendering, deadnaming, violence, and gender dysphoria.

Plot Summary

The novel’s main protagonist is Yadriel, a 16-year-old trans, Latinx boy living in East Los Angeles. Yadriel belongs to a community of brujx who possess the power to see spirits and heal the living. These powers have been given to them by their deity, Lady Death. The brujx are an ancient community who rely heavily on their traditions. As a result, they believe that men are brujos, women are brujas, and their magical gifts align with stereotypical gender roles: Men are protectors, who help spirits cross over into the afterlife, while women are healers. As a trans boy, Yadriel is determined to prove to his family that he is both a brujo and a boy.

Most brujos receive dagger portajes—conduits of Lady Death and her power—while brujas receive rosaries. With the help of his best friend Maritza, Yadriel breaks into a brujx church where they perform the coming-of-age ceremony that he has been repeatedly denied by his community. Lady Death recognizes Yadriel as a brujo, and he is bound to his dagger portaje that Maritza forged for him. Before they can celebrate, all the brujx are struck by a piercing pain. They realize that Miguel, Yadriel’s cousin, has been murdered. Yadriel is desperate to help his father Enrique and the other brujos search for Miguel’s body. Enrique misgenders Yadriel and demands he stay behind with the women. Yadriel is heartbroken but even more determined to find Miguel himself.

While they are looking for Miguel, Yadriel and Maritza find a St. Jude necklace. Using it as a tether, Yadriel summons the spirit of 15-year-old Julian Diaz. Yadriel needs to release Julian from the human world, but Julian refuses to move on. They reach an agreement: If Yadriel helps Julian make sure his friends are safe, Julian will cross into the afterworld and allow Yadriel to find Miguel. Yadriel lets Julian stay with him at his house and must bring him to school with him to avoid being discovered. The more time they spend together, the closer Julian and Yadriel get. Julian is fiercely protective of his friends and family, unashamed of his own sexuality, and deeply caring. Julian does not think Yadriel needs to prove that he is a brujo and a boy to anyone. He affirms Yadriel’s identity, scribbles out his deadname in his yearbook, and helps him find the courage to use the boys’ restroom at school. Julian and Yadriel gradually fall in love.

The closer they get to the Day of the Dead, the more concerned the brujx are that Miguel will not return to tell them of his passing. Julian has also begun to relive his death—he has stayed in the human world for too long and could grow malignant and violent. Yadriel does not understand why this is happening so quickly, but he is determined to help. As Yadriel meets Julian’s friends—his ragtag family—he must contend the privileges he has that Julian doesn’t: having a cell phone, a loving family, and a stable home. Julian also opens Yadriel’s eyes to the fact that there is no possible way that he is the first trans brujx.

On the night of the Day of the Dead, Yadriel, Julian, and Maritza find a hidden crypt in the basement of the brujx church. There, Yadriel finds his uncle Catriz, outcast from their community due to his lack of magic, alongside two strangers, Miguel’s body, and Julian’s barely living form. Tio Catriz wants to sacrifice the four victims with a ceremonial dagger, the claw of the jaguar, so that he can gain power from the jaguar god Bahlam. After a struggle, the teenagers defeat Catriz and send him tumbling into the underworld.

Using the jaguar amulet containing the four spirits, Yadriel summons Lady Death and resurrects the four victims. Miguel awakens and runs to fetch Enrique and the other brujx. Everyone is taken to the hospital, where Julian refuses to leave Yadriel’s side. When they all wake up, Julian and Yadriel reunite in their living bodies for the first time. They kiss. The epilogue finds Yadriel and Julian attending the brujx coming-of-age ceremony. Everyone, including the spirits of dead brujx, attend to celebrate Yadriel’s official induction as a brujo. The brujx accept Yadriel, now embracing rather than excluding different members of their community.