Aiden Thomas Creates Joyful Magic in ‘Cemetery Boys’

Posted by Sharon on September 1, 2020
In one of the most highly anticipated young adult books of 2020, debut author Aiden Thomas creates a magical world of Latinx-inspired magic that sits within real-life East Los Angeles.

Centuries ago, Lady Death granted special powers to the brujx: The men have the ability to raise and release the dead, while women are in charge of healing. So when Yadriel’s family struggles to accept his gender, he does the obvious thing: He summons a ghost to prove them wrong. Except the ghost he summons isn’t the one he tried to summon. Oops. And now that ghost won’t leave him alone. (And maybe, just maybe, Yadriel doesn’t want him to?)

Even worse, some members of the brujx community have been disappearing mysteriously. Can Yadriel, his cousin and best friend Maritza, and wisecracking ghost Julian solve the puzzle before it’s too late?

Thomas spoke with Goodreads about how he came up with the idea for Cemetery Boys, the importance of humor and joy in depicting the experiences of queer and trans people of color, and how he is chronically unable to guess the endings of books and movies.

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Goodreads: 2020 has been a very strange time to debut a novel! What has that experience been like for you?

Aiden Thomas: Strange is definitely a good word for it! It’s been pretty wild. To be honest, not being able to attend events and meet readers has been a bit heartbreaking, but most of those events went digital. Having them be accessible to more folks has been really awesome so there’s definitely a silver lining! 

GR: Have you been able to write during this time?

AT: I actually finished drafting an entire book during quarantine! I know I’m outside the norm, but having a project to focus on has actually been exceptionally helpful during all of this. I might even finish another one!

GR: The premise for this book is so inventive. How did you come up with the idea? Are you a writer who typically starts with plot or characters first?

AT: The premise came from a writing prompt I randomly found on Tumblr! It said, “What would you do if you summoned a ghost and then you couldn’t get rid of it?”

It’s funny because a bunch of the replies and reblogs were creepy ideas, but, of course, I read it and immediately went, “But what if it was a cute ghost?!” Then Julian Diaz, the ghost love interest, is what I came up with next before any of the plot, or even my main character, Yadriel.

GR: Early readers love the odd-couple dynamic between exuberant Julian and more cautious Yadriel. Do you resonate more with one or the other of them when it comes to your personality?

AT: I’m absolutely a mix of both! In astro speak, my friends say I’m Julian Rising and Yadriel Moon. I’m an extroverted introvert, so I come off as really outgoing, stubborn, and I can definitely be Julian-level chaotic!

But when I’m with my friends, and internally, I’m much more like Yadriel. We’re both very caring and intuitive, and I’d much rather stay at home cuddled up with my pets than go out on a Friday night!

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GR: Cemetery Boys tackles some tough topics, but it’s ultimately a really joyful book, celebrating family (and found family), Latinx culture, and characters getting to live their truth. Can you tell us more about the balance of writing about difficult issues while also maintaining an optimistic and joyous tone?

AT: For QTPOC, these are all regular challenges that we come up against on a daily basis, so it was important to me to acknowledge and discuss those issues. At the same time, I don’t want readers who experience these heavy topics to feel crushed by them—I want to give them a reprieve.

I think people outside of those minorities have this idea that being queer/trans/POC is this everyday struggle, filled with suffering, sadness, and rejection. While, yes, we definitely go through those feelings, there’s also a lot of joy we experience because of our identities, and that’s what I wanted to lean into.

It’s important to have moments of hope to balance out the hopelessness, so readers can see characters like themselves being successful, powerful, and loved. On top of that, humor is such an incredible coping mechanism for situations and topics that feel so bleak—humor is how we survive it!

GR: Are there parts of the world-building that you developed for the novel that didn’t end up making it onto the page? For example, I’ve been wondering what kind of magic Lady Death would give to nonbinary brujx?

AT: There was so much I wanted to add but simply didn’t have the time/space for!

Nonbinary brujx, and how their gifts from Lady Death would work, was a big one. I also have other brujx legends I came up with that involved other Mesoamerican deities and monsters. As you find out in Cemetery Boys, the East LA Brujx are just one community—there are several other brujx communities living in North and South America!

Maybe one day I’ll be able to explore those more.

GR: You state in your bio that you are notoriously unable to guess the endings of books and movies. What’s the funniest one you’ve gotten wrong? 

AT: Oh gosh, I think the best example of that was when I watched Frozen for the first time! I absolutely LOVED Hans (though Kristoff was of course my favorite) and when the big reveal happened, I was absolutely devastated! I didn’t see it coming at all and when I gasped in the theater, everyone laughed! I’m still not over it!

GR: Following up on that question, was there a learning curve when you started writing your own plot twists to make them feel both surprising and inevitable? Which authors do you admire for their ability to write a plot twist or great conclusion?

AT: There was definitely a learning curve! It’s funny because I’ve had readers who got ARCs of Cemetery Boys tell me that they didn’t see the ending coming at all, while others thought it was glaringly obvious. It’s so funny seeing the juxtaposition!

I think I’ll have to work on my plotting skills a lot before I’ll ever be able to come up with a really wild plot twist, but Wendy Heard has some fantastic ones! I recently read Hunting Annabelle by Heard and it had some really delicious plot twists. I got to read an ARC of her YA debut, She’s Too Pretty to Burn, and that one was just as fun and twisty. 

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GR: You have another book coming out early next year. Can you tell our members about what to expect?

AT: Yes, my second book, Lost in the Never Woods, comes out in March 2021! It’s a dark, contemporary reimagining of Peter Pan that takes place after the events of the original story.

Wendy lives in the small coastal town of Astoria, Oregon, and when she was little, she and her brothers went missing in the woods. Wendy was eventually found, but there was no trace of her brothers. Now, on her 18th birthday, kids in her small town are starting to go missing and Wendy finds herself in the middle of the mystery. A boy claiming to be Peter Pan shows up and tells Wendy he knows what happened to her brothers and who—or what—is taking the missing kids. In order to find her brothers and rescue the missing kids, Wendy has to confront what’s waiting for her in the woods.

GR: What are some must-read young adult books you’d recommend to the Goodreads community? And are there any under-the-radar authors you think everyone should be reading?

AT: A must-read young adult series for me is The Brooklyn Brujas series by Zoraida Córdova. Labyrinth Lost was the first time I actually saw my culture in a book, and the fact that it was fantasy was a huge game-changer for me! It’s because of those books that I realized I could write a Latinx culture–based book like Cemetery Boys.

I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee and Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender absolutely deserve so much hype!

GR: Finally, what books have you been reading and loving lately? Any titles you keep recommending to your friends and family?

AT: I’m madly in love with the I Hear the Sunspot manga series by Yuki Fumino! I’ve been recommending it to anyone who will listen! It’s about two college-age boys who fall in love. One of them happens to be deaf, and as a member of that community, it was the first time I saw a hard of hearing character in a story that felt authentic. It’s so romantic and incredibly sweet—everyone should check it out!


Aiden Thomas’ Cemetery Boys will be available in the U.S. on September 1. Don’t forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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message 1: by Rosie (new)

Rosie Parchridge this is going to be a good one!

Bradley (AudioShelf) Everyone needs to buy this book! It's amazing!!!!!!!!!!!

message 3: by Leah (last edited Sep 07, 2020 12:50PM) (new)

Leah Anxiously waiting for my preorder to arrive. I'm so excited for Aiden!

Lauren • (diverse-reads) I'm so excited to read Cemetery Boys!! The rep in this book is on another level. Now I just have to manage to get my hands on a copy <3

message 5: by strategian (new)

strategian What the hell is LatinX culture

message 6: by Julie (new)

Julie Broxterman Would this book be okay for 6th graders?

message 7: by Randhir (new)

Randhir Sandhu Finally got my hands on the book !!

message 8: by Cora (new)

Cora I was excited for this but unfortunately I can't stand the Latin-x bs. I'm Hispanic, we NEVER use that distinction because it literally doesn't exist in our language. Honestly love the idea and may give it a read but since it has to do with my culture it's going to pull me out of it immediately if that's in there for real.

message 9: by Abby (new)

Abby Julie wrote: "Would this book be okay for 6th graders?"

Yes, this book is great and it only has a few swears. If you are ok with swears I would say yes.

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