I think so far this is my front runner for the award (though I still have four more nominees to read).
I’ll admit up front that (I think) Yadriel is the first openly trans character I’ve read in fiction, SFF or otherwise. Certainly, one of the most interesting and prescient elements of the novel is the way in which Yadriel has to navigate life with this identity, despite a world which — whether intentionally or unintentionally — just doesn’t understand him.
The author mentions in an interview for NPR, that “[Very often] … teaching falls onto the shoulders of queer/trans kids, which can be exhausting.”
I FELT THIS constantly while reading Cemetery Boys (so great execution there). At times it seemed there was enough tension and suspense in just this one aspect of the plot that it was almost cruel to have a magical murder mystery to solve on top of it.
But heroes do hard things and Yadriel is no exception. I enjoyed rooting for him and watching him grow. That he often had so few reasons to grin like a fool, only made me grin that much wider when he finally cracked a smile.
Another strength of the novel is Yadriel’s crew. Julian was perhaps my favorite. Even though he’s technically dead (a ghost), the kid is bursting with life. Energetic, confident, and enthusiastic about seemingly everything, Julian at first appears not to have a care in the world. We see later, that life has not been easy for him either, and that he has his own struggles and issues to contend with . . . which only makes his no-holds-barred approach to life (unlife?) even more impressive and inspiring. He doesn’t always know the right thing to say, and he basically never knows the right thing to do, but he’s honest and caring, and true to himself, in a way that gets him forgiven for his missteps. He’s a perfect companion for Yadriel on this adventure, a true yin to Yad’s yang (try saying that ten times fast).
Maritza also should get an honorable mention as well. She’s a badass and super supportive to everyone in a kind of I-am-rolling-my-eyes-at-you way (as in she’s rolling her eyes, not the reader). Plus she has two adorable pitbulls which provide a shot of much needed laughter and cheerfulness when things are in danger of getting too intense.
Essentially, this story is about its characters, and the author, Aiden Thomas, just nails them seemingly effortlessly.
The last element in the ‘awesome’ category is the book’s milieu (I probably should just say worldbuilding). We’re in Los Angeles, but mostly we’re in this Latinx community of Brujx. There’s so much to delve into here, but I won’t because I’d rather you just read it and experience it for yourself. What I really admired most though, was how tethered (in the case of freeing a soul literally) the magic was to the identity of the community and the protagonist specifically. Everything revolved around it, and there was no shortage of detail to really immerse (welcome us) into the community. Whether it was painting sugar skulls while discussing ancient gods, or simply eating delicious food at relative’s house, it all felt real, and wonderful.
And in the case of an aunt or grandmother constantly trying to push food on you as a teen, somewhat nostalgic?
I had only one gripe with the book and it was pacing. There were a few points which I felt we were getting information we had already seen or heard, or a few times — after learning some new clue or info — we’d have to go home or sit through school. Perhaps I was just identifying too much with Julian who can’t sit still for longer than a few moments. However, none of these moments took me out of the story for long.
I’m going to say optimistically (as of 6/22/2021) that this will be my vote for the Lodestar Award. A Deadly Education was really great, but marred by too many insensitivities. This book just seemed to shine, so unless the one of the other four nominees shines brighter somehow, I think this will be the one.
Thanks for reading all this. Please let me know your thoughts on the book, and what your favorite parts were in the comments section. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!