Yadriel is a young trans boy who has just recently come out. He wants to be a brujo (basically a medium/witch) but his family is not keen on the idea because they're still coming to terms with his identity and they feel like he missed the window since he didn't complete the ceremony as a bruja. Yadriel, however, isn't about to take no for an answer: he's determined to have his own ceremony with the help of his friend, Maritza, but what should be a night of success ends up becoming a night of tragedy when it ends in murder-- and ghosts.
Julian is a boy from Yadriel's school who recently died. His death was apparently gruesome but he doesn't remember who killed him or even what happened. But he doesn't want Yadriel to send him on his way to the afterlife until he knows for sure that his friends are safe. Julian ends up accompanying Yadriel around as they look into Julian's past and seek answers, which ultimately leads them on the path to discovering the truth behind the murders.
I loved the cultural elements of this book and all of the on-page Spanish. It made me feel pretty good about the language I retained from all my years of study! But even if you don't understand Spanish, the context makes it easy to guess what's going on. The Dia de los Muertos elements were beautifully rendered and I liked how the author referred to brujos collectively with the gender neutral term, brujx. It shows the need for creating gender neutral and inclusive spaces in languages that are heavily gendered, where every article, adjective, and noun can end up feeling like a blow when used incorrectly. I also liked how Yadriel's family wasn't mean about his being trans-- it seemed more like they were trying to understand and just didn't really get it. Not that this is less hurtful, but it feels more realistic and maybe easier to relate to for a lot of people who might struggle with getting their own families to understand.
I'm giving this a three because it was not quite as... I don't know, weighty... as I would have hoped. It's a very generous three because I did enjoy the book! I just felt like the pacing was a little awkward at times and there were a lot of portions where not a lot was happening. Also, the villain? Super obvious. Literally AS SOON as they set foot in the story I was like WHOOMP (THERE THEY ARE). And sadly, I was not disappointed. It's also fluffier than you would expect for a book about death, which is maybe a nice thing. But for a book that is focused very heavily on the romance, I will say that this is the rare YA book where the romance actually feels natural and not artificially constructed.
So over all, this is a solid debut and I can see why so many people love it, even if I didn't end up fully buying into the hype. I think it's best to go in cold and approach it for what it is: a feel-good book that's basically a PIXAR movie in print format. Geared towards a younger audience, but appreciable by all.
3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars
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