I think I had too high expectations going into this book, considering how much I loved the Hunger Games and Aiden Thomas previous book Cemetery Boys. The Sunbearer Trials was an enjoyable read, with amazing diversity and representation, but the story was a bit too predictable and felt more of a middle grade book than a young adult one. And whereas there were some great characters, there were also many one-dimensional one and a world-building with wide plot holes.
Aiden Thomas is one of my favorite authors when it comes to strong diversity and representation, and The Sunbearer Trials was no exception. I truly enjoyed the trans and nonbinary representation and the Mexican-inspired mythology. I especially loved how the whole world was queer normative, with the highest God being nonbinary and with gender confirmation ceremonies being a common thing for people who indentify themselves with a different gender from the one they were assigned at birth. Aiden Thomas is also one of the best authors I’ve ever read when it comes to describing dysphoria and the way Teo’s experience of the wing color show that was brilliant.
Teo was a likeable character, but he felt a bit pre-teen. I adored Aurelio, but the enemies-to-lovers trope never really took off between them. It was more of a friends-to not friends-to friends-again thing, that felt more middle grade than a YA romance. And many of the other characters were quite one dimensional.
I enjoyed the world building and the relationship between Teo and the birds in Quetzlan, but when the trials started the world building got a bit thin and very similar to Hunger Games. But compared to Hunger Games, the intensity was missing. Maybe because the stakes weren’t as high in the competitions, or because there was a nerv lacking in the plot or writing style? I can’t quite pinpoint what about the trials and the characters that didn’t fully work for me, but it all felt a bit juvenile and underwhelming unfortunately.
But still, it was a very enjoyable and quick read, and the amazing representation made up for a lot of the other aspects that were missing.
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This magical yet authentic debut by Aiden Thomas is as intriguing as it is inclusive. It’s soaked in Latinx culture and LGBTQ+ representation, but most of all, it’s a wonderful story about acceptance and with amazing characters to root for!
Sixteen-year-old gay Latinx trans boy Yadriel comes from a long line of brujos with the power to bridge the living world with the dead. When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel and his cousin and best friend Maritza perform the brujo ritual he’s been denied on their own. With his magical powers unlocked, Yadriel is determined to prove himself to his family, both as a brujo and a boy. But in the search for his murdered cousin Miguel’s lost spirit, he ends up summoning the wrong ghost.
Instead of the ghost of Miguel, Yadriel is now stuck with the ghost of Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, who is not about to go quietly into death. 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 things he wants may not be about Julian leaving at all…
“The only thing more stupid than going around his family’s back, summoning spirits, and trying to solve multiple murders would be falling for a dead boy. Especially if it was Julian Diaz.”
I absolutely loved Yadriel and loved following him as the protagonist in this wonderful story about his quest for acceptance and discovery of love where he least expects it. Yadriel was such an authentic character in his doubts, his longing for acceptance of who he was, his friendship with Maritza and his general kindness. And Maritza in her turn was such a wonderful friend to Yadriel. Always there for him, but also so badass! The dialogue and the banter between them were so fun and witty.
My main favorite though was Julian. I do have a soft spot for bad boys, and Julian was one of the best bad boys with a big heart that I’ve ever met. He was so certain about himself being gay and understanding of Yadriel. I loved the way he helped Yadriel to believe in and stand up for himself, telling him that he was good enough the way he was and that he didn’t need the acceptance of others, just himself.
“You don’t need anyone’s permission to be you.”
And I loved how Julien pulled Yadriel into his loud, wild and vibrant world, pushing him outside his comfort zone. The character growth within this book was amazing, with Yadriel growing to accept who he was and his strength, with Maritza allowing herself to perform magic in an untraditional way, and with Julien opening up to show his emotions. And the romance part… ah, it was just so sweet and perfect! Kudos to Aiden Thomas for the compelling dynamic and the truly unique set up with Yadriel falling for a ghost he knows he must eventually help pass to the other side.
There is so much to this story! At its core it’s a mystery plot and a hunt for a mysterious murder, but it’s also full of Latinx cultural elements and paranormal aspects. I also really appreciated the queer representation and the nuanced way that it was described in that it wasn’t so much Yadriel struggling with his identity but his family and how their refusals hurt and impacted him, without making his family pure evil or turning them into villains.
I’ll have to admit though, that it took me a little while longer than expected to get into the story. The pacing was a bit slow until I’ve gotten to know all the characters and the hunt for the murderer took off. And some parts were perhaps a bit too predictable.
But all in all, this was an amazing debut from an author with a completely new voice to watch. In Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas takes us on a mystical, heartfelt and emotional journey with his fantastic narrative, wonderful characters and enchanting mix of queerness, authenticity and paranormal magic.
4.5 magical stars rounding up to 5
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All 1 Star 2 Stars 3 Stars 4 Stars 5 Stars Abbi Glines Abdi Nazemian Adam Silvera Adib Khorram Aiden Thomas Aisha Saeed Aislinn Brophy AJ Collins Alexandra Christo Alex Beltran Alexene Farol Follmuth Alexis Hall Alex Kelly Alex Sanchez Alice Dolman Alice Oseman Ali Hazelwood Alison Cochrun Al Riske Alwyn Hamilton Amanda Ferreira A. Meredith Walters Amy Aislin Amy Harmon Amy S. Foster Amy Spalding André Aciman Andy V Roamer Angie Thomas Annabeth Albert A. Poland Ashley Poston Ashley Woodfolk Ashlyn Kane Audrey Coulthurst Becca Fitzpatrick Becky Albertalli Benjamin Alire Saenz Beth Bolden Bill Konigsberg B.L. Maxwell Briar Prescott Bri Spicer Brooke Skipstone Cale Dietrich Casey McQuiston Cassandra Clare C.F. White C.G. Drews Charli Meadows Chris Bedell Ciara Smyth Clarissa Pattern C.L. Beaumont Colette Davison Colleen Hoover Crystal Frasier C.S. Pacat Daven McQueen David Biddle David Yoon Dean Atta Debbie McGowan Debbie Rigaud Debbie Schrack Deborah Harkness Delia Owens D.G. Carothers Dhonielle Clayton Douglas Stuart Dustin Thao Elisa A. Bonnin Elizabeth Acevedo Elizabeth Arroyo Elle Kennedy Elle Wright E. Lockhart Emily M. Danforth Emily Mims Erin Watt Ernest Cline Evan J. Corbin Eve Morton Everina Maxwell Evie Dunmore Felice Stevens Grace Williams Gwen Martin Hanya Yanagihara Hayden Stone Heather Truett H.E. Edgmon Hettie Bell Holly Black Hope Irving Hudson Lin Ingrid Sterling Jacqueline Lee Jacqueline Woodson James L. Sutter Jamie Deacon Jandy Nelson Jax Calder Jay Hogan Jeanette Winterson Jeff Zentner Jen Bailey Jenna Evans Welch Jenn Burke Jennifer E. Smith Jennifer G. Edelson Jennifer Gilmore Jennifer Iacopelli Jennifer Kropf Jennifer Niven Jenny Downham Jenny Han Jeremy Ray Jesse H. Reign Joelle Lynne John Green Jonny Garza Villa Julianne Donaldson Julian Winters Kacen Callender Kami Garcia Kara Leigh Miller Kasie West Kate Larkindale Katharine McGee Kathleen Mareé KD Casey Kendall Grey Kevin Van Whye Kiley Reid Kim Fielding Kim Holden Kim Liggett Kitty Bardot Kris Ripper K.S. Marsden Laura Hall Laura Pavlov Laura Silverman Lauren James Laurie Frankel Leah Johnson Lee Matthew Goldberg Leigh Bardugo Leylah Attar Lisa Henry Lisa Williamson Lisa Wingate Liv Rancourt Liz Plum Lola Noire Lynn Michaels Mackenzi Lee Madeline Miller Magdalena Di Sotru Maggie Doolin Maggie Stiefvater Malin Persson Giolito Malorie Blackman Margaret Stohl Marie Lu Mary E. Pearson Mason Deaver Matthew R. Corr Melina Marchetta Meredith Russo Miel Moreland Mila Gray Miranda Kenneally Moa Backe Astot Morgan James M. Tasia Nancy Garden Natalie Haynes Nicholas Sparks Nicola Yoon Nic Starr Nic Stone Nina Kenwood Nita Tyndall Nora Sakavic N.R. Walker Owen Lach Penny Aimes Phil Stamper Quinn Anderson Rachael Brownell Rachael Lippincott Rachel Hawkins Rainbow Rowell Ray Stoeve Renée Dahlia Rhiannon Wilde Riley Hart River Braun Roan Parrish Robin Gow Roseanne A. Brown Rowan MacKemsley Ruby Moone Ruta Sepetys Ryan La Sala Sally Green Sally Rooney Sarah J. Maas Sarah Waters Sarina Bowen Sasha Laurens Saundra Mitchell Saxon James Serena Bell Shannon O’Connor Sidney Bell Simone Elkeles Siryn Sueng Sophia DeRise Sophia Soames Sophie Gonzales S.R. Lane Stephen Chbosky Stephenie Meyer Steven Salvatore Susan Mac Nicol Suzanne Collins Tahereh Mafi Tal Bauer Tamara Girardi Teagan Hunter Terry J. Benton-Walker Tiffany D. Jackson Timothy Janovsky T.J. Klune T.L. Bradford Tobly McSmith Tomasz Jedrowski Tomi Adeyemi Tracy Deonn Val Wise Veronica Rossi Veronica Roth V.E. Schwab Victor Dixen Victoria Aveyard V.L. Stuart Wesley Chu Xan Van Rooyen Yamile Saied Méndez