Year of Publication: 2020
Genre: YA Fantasy
Format (How I Read It): Hardcover
Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.
When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.
Themes: Family. Identity. You have to believe in yourself. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t take your life for granted.
Character Development: I really liked all of the characters in this novel! Yadriel in particular is an interesting character because it’s interesting to how his experience as a transgender teenage boy intersects with his experience being part of a Latinx family (and the traditions and beliefs that go along with this). Yadriel’s family was compelling in that you could tell they loved him, but were struggling to accept him for who he is and were making a lot of mistakes (grave ones). Their mistakes were unacceptable and, depending on your perspective, maybe even unforgiveable. I appreciated how we got to see how both Yadriel and Julian interpreted and reacted to their actions. I do wish we had been able to see more natural and authentic growth from all of the characters, but I still really liked them and what they each represented.
As far as the romance goes, I can’t deny it was cute! But again, the progression of the relationship just didn’t feel natural. As the kids say, it went from 0 to 100 real quick (do the kids actually say that? I don’t even know). Basically, Yadriel and Julian went from being strangers, to acquaintances/kind of friends, to madly in love without much explanation. And the majority of the latter half of the novel is entirely dedicated to their pining for one another. I think teens will enjoy it, but I would have appreciated a little more substance in addition to the cuteness (because again, they are cute together).
Plot/Pacing: This is where things really fall apart for me. I love the premise, the characters are bold and fun, but the plot and pacing of this novel are all over the place. There’s a mysterious death at the beginning of the novel that is clearly meant to be the main plot of the story, but then Julian is introduced and the original, primary conflict is almost entirely dropped. It doesn’t come back in full force until the very end; literally not again until the climax of the story. And at this point, the reader isn’t really invested in that part of the story anymore. The climax also happens so fast and feels kind of corny.
At some point in the second part of the book, the plot almost entirely revolves around the romance. And even then, most scenes consist of Yadriel and Julian (and sometimes Maritza or others characters) just walking around and talking. That’s it. It seems like they could have been working together to solve the mystery and having those conversations (that develop the characters and relationships) while doing something that actually progresses the plot. The pacing was just off, and the plot structure was unbalanced.
Writing Style: This was the other area in which I felt let down. The writing just felt a little juvenile. At first I wondered if it maybe just felt that way since I’m older than the target audience, but writing style isn’t what determines whether or not something is YA. Young adult fiction has more to do with the age of the characters and them dealing with themes related to growing up, discovering themselves, etc. The writing here was just not always great. At times, it was overly descriptive and tedious, and the dialogue often felt corny and unrealistic. It sometimes felt more like reading fan fiction rather than a published novel.
Emotional Investment: Moderate.
Windows and Mirrors: Transgender teenage boy. Latinx family/community. Day of the Dead celebrations. Found family. Death of a parent.
Overall Thoughts: I feel horrible writing this review because I so desperately wanted to love this book! At its foundation, I still really do love it. It’s an intriguing premise with great themes and compelling characters, it just wasn’t executed as well as it could’ve been. With better editing, it could’ve been great because there really is a great story hiding in there! For a debut novel, this shows so much promise. Aiden Thomas has a lot to contribute to the literary world, and I look forward to seeing what else they do in the future!
Recommendation: I think teens and younger readers (the romance is very tame; advanced young readers could probably tackle this one) will really enjoy this! It’s also great for learning about el Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). While it has its flaws, it’s definitely worth checking out if any elements of the story interest you!
Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any questions about it, and keep an eye out for my next review!