Portland author’s award-winning ‘Cemetery Boys’ is ghost story turned rom-com

Special Reports

KOIN 6 News spoke with Aiden Thomas, one of the winners of the 2021 Pacific Northwest Book Awards

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — Three Oregon-based authors snagged 2021 Pacific Northwest Book Awards this month, including Aiden Thomas who lives and writes in Portland.

Aiden’s young adult novel “Cemetery Boys” is about a transgender Latinx teen trying to prove himself to his family and finally be accepted as a brujo (wizard) by summoning a ghost. It spent several weeks on The New York Times best sellers list last fall.

KOIN 6 News talked with Aiden about the inspiration for their debut novel, winning the award, and their next book which will be released this spring.

Editor’s note: Questions and answers have been edited for style and clarity.

Q: What is “Cemetery Boys” about?

Cemetery Boys is about a transgender boy named Yadriel who is Latinx and lives in this brujx community, which is kind of like a community of like witches and wizards you could say. He has been denied the rites of passage ceremony because his family doesn’t think he can go through the brujo — or the boy — rites of passage because he was assigned female at birth. So he decides to go do the ceremony on his own. He figures out the best way to really prove himself to his community and especially to his family, is to summon the spirit of his cousin who recently just died under mysterious circumstances. But he accidentally summons the spirit of Julian Dias who is the resident bad boy of his high school. And suddenly their stories and their journey gets really entangled together and it turns into this really fun, I like to call it a ghost story turned rom-com.

Q: This is your debut novel. Where did the idea come from?

I was scrolling through Tumblr in the middle of the night one night and I found this writing prompt and it said, “What would you do if you summoned a ghost and then you couldn’t get rid of it?” And a lot of the replies and like reblogs were like, “Oh here’s these really like scary and spooky ghost story” ideas. And I was like, “Okay, what if I summoned a ghost I couldn’t rid of and then what if he was really cute?” And so that’s where the story for “Cemetery Boys” kind of sparked from. And then knowing that I wanted to write about a Latinx boy and ghosts, it just aligned perfectly with my favorite holiday which is Día de los Muertos.

Q: Your novel features a queer, trans, Latinx protagonist. How important was it to you to have so many different representations in your novel?

It was really important to me to have all of those facets because when you’re a person who has so many that you’re kind of grappling with, those intersections aren’t always explored. I used to get this question all the time when I was doing interviews, “Aiden when was the first time you saw yourself represented in media?” People like me didn’t exist and that was why I wrote “Cemetery Boys,” and so to have that on the page and to have that representation is so important and to hear from readers being like, “This is the first time I ever saw myself in a book,” that’s huge, especially for young adult readers.

Aiden Thomas is the author of “Cemetery Boys,” which won a 2021 Pacific Northwest Book Award (courtesy Aiden Thomas)

Q: What went through your mind when you found out you had won a 2021 Pacific Northwest Book Award?

I was shocked. Every time anything exciting happens with publishing, especially “Cemetery Boys,” I am so thankful and excited and I haven’t become jaded with the process at all. Anytime any of these things happen it’s just like, it’s life changing and it’s incredible.

Q: Your next book, “Lost in the Neverwoods,” is actually the first book you wrote. It takes place in a city many of our viewers might be familiar with, doesn’t it?

“Lost in the Never Woods” is slated for release March 23, 2021 (courtesy Aiden Thomas)

“Lost in the Neverwoods” is the first book that I ever wrote and it’s the first book that I sold. It takes place in Astoria, Oregon which is actually the city that I madly fell in love with when I was here for school for that one year. I had a friend who lived in Astoria and so she brought me up there for a weekend and I just fell madly in love with it. It’s such a beautiful place with such wonderful people that I was like, “Okay I need to set this book here.”

Q: What is it about?

It’s a dark reimagining of “Peter Pan.” It takes place after the original story and is obviously contemporarily set. What happens is that when Wendy was younger, she and her brothers went missing in the woods behind their house. Six months later she was found but her brothers were never found, so it picks up on her 18th birthday and kids are starting to go missing in Astoria. Then all of of a sudden Peter shows up claiming to know that he knows what happened to the missing kids and then the mystery kind of unfolds from there. It’s very spooky and atmospheric. It’s a really fun book.

“Lost in the Neverwoods” comes out March 23, 2021. Read more about Aiden’s work, see more upcoming projects, and connect with them online by clicking here.

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