"What she needs are stories. Stories are a way to preserve one's self. To be remembered. And to forget. Stories come in so many forms: in charcoal, and in song, in paintings, poems, films. And books. Books, she has found, are a way to live a thousand lives—or to find strength in a very long one.” The invisibile life of Addie LaRue
Raised in isolation at Heavenly Shepherd, her family’s trailer-dealership-turned-survival compound, Ami Miles knows that she was lucky to be born into a place of safety after the old world ended and the chaos began. But when her grandfather arranges a marriage to a cold-eyed stranger, she realizes that her “destiny” as one of the few females capable of still bearing children isn’t something she’s ready to face.
With the help of one of her aunts, she flees the only life she’s ever known, and sets off on a quest to find her long-lost mother (and hopefully a mate of her own choosing). But as she journeys, Ami discovers many new things about the world… and about herself.
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange of an honest review. Thank you so much, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and Swoon Reads, for the chance to read and review it.
TW: racism, homophobia, bigotism
The ballad of Ami Miles is a book about self-discovery and I really liked reading it. Ami is a young girl and her whole world was the compound and everything she knew was through her grandparents’ lessons, through the Bible. How to be a good girl, what her “duty” and “destiny” was, the difference of roles between male and female, how female should act and dress, when to speak and how and so on. Set in an almost apocalyptic world, where a sickness made almost every woman barren, Amy could be one of the last able to bear children and so, according to her family, it’s her duty to God. But Ami can’t do it, she’s not an animal to be bred, so she runs and her journey to find her mother, who left her when she was a baby, is journey that will open her eyes about the reality and herself, making her question beliefs and everything she thought was true, only because her family said so.
The story is intense, the prose fluid and Ami is a captivating main character, strong, stubborn and determined, willing to learn new things, to grow and face the truth. Because she was so sheltered she is naive and surprised of things other people consider normal and sometimes it was hilarious. I liked the side characters, too, complex and well written. Without spoilering anything, I really loved one of Ami’s aunt and her new friends were amazing.
I loved reading how Ami adapts hersef in this new community, how she grows and changes and finds her place in the world. Maybe the way she was able to question and discard a lifelong set of ideas in a just few days was a bit unlikely (since her mother wasn’t absolutely able in years), but apart from this, I really liked this book.
There are many themes in The ballad of Ami Miles, like racism, homophobia, bigotism. The way the women were treated in Heavenly Sheltered isn’t so far-fetched and unfortunately I could see a world where things like that could happen.
I really liked the queer relationship, even though I found it a bit too rushed, but it’s lovely and the way Ami was able to find her place with family and friends was beautiful and intense.
Overall, this a 4.5 stars book and I definitely recommend it to those who are looking for a dystopian, queer and apocalyptic book.
“You should see yourself! What, ain’t you never heard a woman cuss before? Lord, child, they have kept you in a little glass box all your life, haven’t they?”
“Running away and getting to Lake Point all by myself was the beginning. Being on my own and taking care of myself, making my own choices about the best way to get myself where I needed to be had shown me how strong I really was. I never would have thought I was capable of any of that, but I was. And then being here, meeting all these new people, finding kids my own age who could become friends, seeing how much bigger the world was than I had ever known—it was all just so big! And it all made Heavenly Shepherd look mighty small. How could I fit myself back into that little closed-up life?”
“Do you really think anyone has ever made it all the way through life without making a mistake? Mistakes are in the eye of the beholder, if you ask me. Sometimes we make choices and things don’t work out; that’s true. And then do you know what happens? We just move on. We survive.”
“Will I feel like I just found a piece of myself I didn’t even know was missing? Will I feel like I’ll die if he smiles at me and I’ll die if he doesn’t? Will I know because I’ve never felt so much like myself as I do when I’m with him?” Her face had gone from surprise to shock. “Because that’s how I feel with Jessie. And I know, I know, people can change, feelings can change, I get it! But that doesn’t mean these feelings I have right now aren’t real.“
Kristy Dallas Alley is a high school librarian in Memphis, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, four kids, three cats, and an indeterminate number of fish. She studied creative writing at Rhodes College in another lifetime and holds a Master of Science in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership from the University of Memphis. In an ideal world, she would do nothing but sit on a beach and read every single day of her life, but in reality she’s pretty happy reading on her front porch, neglecting the gardens she enthusiastically plants each spring, and cooking huge meals regardless of the number of people around to eat them. The Ballad of Ami Miles is her debut novel.
WELCOME TO MY STOP FOR THE CEMETERY BOYS BOOK TOUR!
Cemetery Boys was my first 2020 read and I couldn’t have started this reading year better. I’ve been obsessed and in love with this book, basically freaking out about it with everyone willing (unwilling too) to listen and then I met an amazing person on Twitter who sent me an extra ARC of Cemetery Boys! The best gift ever!
I’m so happy now to be part of the Hear our voices tour to celebrate Cemetery Boys.
by Aiden Thomas Publisher: Swoon Reads Release Date: September 1, 2020 Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
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. (from Goodreads)
The quotes in the review are from the earc, so they can be subject to changes.
Cemetery Boys is the kind of book you don’t want to end. It’s the book you decide to read over and over, committing to memory quotes and pages and squealing in delight and fear because you’re so involved with the story and its characters. It’s the kind of book you have to finish, because you need to see what will happen next. And at the same time you don’t want to, because its world is full of magic, its characters amazing and you wanna know more and more. You wanna read about Yadriel, Julian and Maritza and stay with them when they grow up, when they are adults and then old and even when they are dead and their adventures in the afterlife. They stayed and they are still with me.
I fell in love with Cemetery Boys and it was everything I could hope for, full of plot twists, intense and complex characters, important issues addressed, funny cousin, supportive cat, slobbering dogs, wonderful cinnamon rolls boys.
This book is brilliant, heartbreaking and it explores Latinx trans identity, identity issues, Latinx folklore and legends, racial and classist injustices, misconceptions and it’s a very important read. The plot is engaging and it’s full of characters brimming with life and energy, so intense you could almost touch them.
I loved so many things about this book I think it’s imperative to do some order.
The writing, worlbuilding and the magic system
The writing is evocative, lush and atmospheric. The author wrote a book so realistic, so incredibly engaging you could almost taste and smell Yadriel’s world, almost see the cemetery with the spirits, Tito and his marigolds, the calaveras and the magic. It feels like you are there with Yadriel and Julian on Yads’ bed, listening to music and talking all night, or with them and Maritza looking for clues, or laughing at Julian’s malaprop and his funny and constant questions.
“Hey, hey, hey, don’t use me as your escape goat.” Yadriel exhaled a tired laugh. “Scapegoat, Jules.”
The worldbuilding is incredibly rich, complex and so wonderfully crafted. It was thrilling and interesting reading and learning more about Latinx culture, about their folklore, traditions and legends, about Lady Death, Bahlam, brujos and brujas, their powers and their portaje. Both brujos and brujas are able to see and sense spirits, but brujos can help them cross in the afterlife and brujas can heal people, while the portaje is a chosen conduit Lady Death ties brujos’ and brujas’ magic to.
It was really fascinating learning their view of death and afterlife. The idea of being able to see a dead loved one was incredible.
The characters are complex, well-written, so brimming with life, so alive and intense it’s impossible not to love them.
“Yadriel wasn’t trespassing. He’d lived in the cemetery his whole life, so he couldn’t trespass in his own home. But breaking into the church was definitely crossing the moral-ambiguity line.”
Yadriel is the main character. He’s a trans boy, he’s gay and he’s struggling to be accepted by his family and community as a boy and a brujo. He’s incredibly strong, brilliant, funny and he loves and respects the traditions, his community. In Cemetery boys he is constanly torn between his love for his family and community and his desire to be himself, to be accepted and seen as he really is.
He’s tired to fight to be himself, tired to accept others’ mistakes and to be the odd one out. It was a delight reading about a complex character like him.
“Despite her words of warning, Maritza didn’t seem worried about getting into a heap of trouble with their family. In fact, she looked downright excited. Dark eyes wide, a devilish grin played across her lips that Yadriel knew all too well.”
Maritza is Yadriel’s cousin, always up to mischief, supportive and stubborn, fiercely loyal. She’s dynamic, realistic and ready to be with and make fun of Yadriel and bickering with him and Julian. Her relationship with Yadriel is intense, strong and she’s a force of nature, extrovert, smartass, stubborn and she shares with Yadriel the title of Black sheep of the family, because she’s vegan and she refuses her bruja’s power because she should use animal blood.
Unlike Yadriel, who suffers being an outcast, Maritza is not interested in being part of the brujx community, although believing in their traditions and in Lady Death.
“Julian was achingly beautiful, but in the way a thunderstorm was beautiful—wild, rough, electric. And bound to leave devastation in his wake.”
Julian Diaz. What can I say about Julian? He’s obnoxious, boisterous, chatty and impossible. He exudes Scorpio chaotic energy. He’s a whirlwind, a thunderstorm and he brings chaos in Yadriel’s life, complicating his plans to prove to his community he’s a brujio by finding his cousin Miguel, but slowly becoming someone Yadriel isn’t ready to leave.
Julian is energetic, unabashed, shaking Yadriel’s world with his blunt honesty and easy acceptance. I love his energy, how fiercely he loves and protects his family and it was refreshing reading about a character so pure and funny. His interactions with Yadriel and Maritza, but mostly with Yadriel, are hilarious, like when Yadriel corrects him all the time for his malaprop, creating funny moments and melancholic at the same time, because Yadriel is falling for him.
Romance and two wonderful and soft cinnamon rolls boys
The relationship between Yadriel and Julian is sweet, complex and I loved every moment of it, leaving me needing more of them. Their love story is one of the things I loved the most about Cemetery Boys. It’s complex, nuanced and intricate and I found myself so involved I squealed, cursed and cried in more than one occasion.
Yadriel and Julian are very different from each other. While Yadriel is quiet, reserved and focused, Julian is boisterous, chatty, loud and a “problem” in Yadriel’s plans. Slowly, though, they get to know, confide in and trust one other.
I loved reading about their interactions, funny and melancholic at the same time and how they fell moment moment by moment in love with each other in a impossible situation.
Julian is blunt, stubborn, boisterous and he was a refreshing surprise for Yadriel, who struggled all the time to be accepted. Julian becomes a person Yadriel can be himself with, feeling comfortable around him. Their trust in each other is complete and empowering.
The scene when they are in bed, listening to music and talking was one of my favourite ever. It was so sweet seeing them getting to know one other.
Gender identity, deadnaming and misgendering
The book shows the struggles of being transgender, the bullying at school, the hurt of being deadnamed and misgendered. Yadriel struggles to be seen and accepted for who he is, facing misgendering, deadnaming and ostracism both at school and in his community.
He is tired of people misgendering or deadnaming him, giving people the benefit of the doubt. Tired of fighting to be himself and to not belong. At the same time, though, he loves fiercely his family and he wants to be part of the brujx community.
“Well, Yadriel was tired of it. He was tired of forgiving. He was tired of fighting to just exist and be himself. He was tired of being the odd one out.”
Whenever Yads came out to someone it was always difficult because he didn’t know how would they react or understand, it’s always difficult for him. It’s refreshing and comfortable with Julian, even though at the beginning Yadriel braced himself, expecting the same reaction of everyone else, but Julian gets him right away, without making him feel uncomfortable.
During the whole book, through their conversation, Julian helps him feel more sure about being himself, even helping him using the boys’ bathroom for the first time at school.
One of the most beautiful and intense part of Cemetery boys was when Julian and Yadriel discuss why he has to prove his identity to his family.
“I mean, Flaca isn’t any less of a girl just because other people look at her and don’t see her as one,” Julian went on. “Just because she’s not on hormones or whatever, or ’cause she’s not ‘passing,’ doesn’t mean other people get to decide who she is. And the same goes for you.” Heat bloomed in Yadriel’s cheeks. “You don’t owe anybody shit,” Julian told him, stormy anger brewing behind dark eyes. He was kind of an asshole. Julian was abrasive, sometimes rude, and didn’t seem to have much tact. But, for some reason, Yadriel’s heart still fluttered in his chest.
Realistic representation of families and the identity issues
The family, found or biological, is an important and recurring theme. Aiden Thomas wrote realistic families, with a stubborn and fussy matriarch and grandmother, ready to worry about and feed you, protective aunts and uncles, squabbling siblings. It’s lifelike, showing their struggles, fights, misunderstandings between siblings and between father and son, who find hard and difficult being open about their feelings and talk.
For Yadriel being himself in a traditional family, in a community stuck in their ways and traditions is a constant struggle. His family, even though unintentionally, hurt his feelings, making everything more difficult. At the same time, though, the author shows a family, that is not perfect (none is), but that is open to change, to be better and understanding, to be more open-minded. A beginning to a more open era.
Julian’s family, consisting of his older brother and his friends, is beautiful, miscellaneous and intricate. Through Yadriel’s question and Julian’s stories about his friends, the author touches and addresses multiple issues, like abusive enviroments, gangs, parents kicking out their children or abusing them. There’s fierceness and intensity in their love for one other, ready to do anything to support and help each other, creating their own family, where there is love, acceptance and understanding.
Misconceptions, racial and classist prejudices
Yadriel, Julian and Maritza try to understand what happened to Julian and Miguel and the whole subplot is cliffhanging and captivating, not only for the mystery, but because it explores themes like misconceptions, racial and classist prejudices.
It’s really explicative when the police refused to issue an AMBER alert for Julian, deciding he was a runaway “Because he’s a latino boy living in East Los Angeles with no parents” and when Miguel’s parents tried to report him missing, struggling to speak English, asking for an interpreter and the police was uncooperative and they asked if they all were US citizens. It also showed the disinterest of the police towards the missing “street kids” and those, like Julian, labelled like that by misconceptions, called “bad boy”, thinking him involved in drugs and gangs, judging him by his quick temper and his school attendance, without caring to know if there is more.
I recommend this book to those who want to fall in love with amazing and realistic characters, who want to get involved in a brilliant and complex plot, who want to be transported in an unusual supernatural love story. If you love soft cinnamon rolls, gods and goddesses, spirits and love, this book is perfect for you.
This would be the first time he ever brought a boy home, and he was dead.
“Wait, can ghosts eat food?” Julian asked in his ear, very concerned. Santa Muerte, help me.
It looked like a bomb had gone off. Or maybe just a human hurricane named Julian Diaz.
“His big, obnoxious Scorpio energy is invading your cozy Cancer safe space!”
“Queer folks are like wolves,” Julian told him. “We travel in packs.”
HAY NIÑAS CON PENE, NIÑOS CON VULVA Y TRANSFÓBICOS SIN DIENTES. In the lower corner, it read, ST. J. Yadriel recognized the handwriting. A smile tugged at the corner of his lip.
Yadriel didn’t think that was possible. He didn’t see how anyone could get a clean break from Julian once they entered his orbit. Himself included.
He envied whoever Julian gave his fiery devotion to. It was a warm and unyielding force to be shielded by.
Julian was the most alive person he’d ever met. Even as a spirit, he was bright and full of constantly moving energy. A sun crammed into the body of a boy. Yadriel didn’t want to see him without his light.
Unabashed and beaming, this was his favorite version of Julian. Bright, carefree, and overflowing with infectious energy. Alive.
Julian was in his element. He liked noisy places and noisy people. A stormy boy who seemed most comfortable in chaos.
Eyes closed and smiling, the firelight danced over his skin. Yadriel was drawn to him like a moth to a flame. To his reckless charm and striking features. Julian was achingly beautiful, but in the way a thunderstorm was beautiful—wild, rough, electric. And bound to leave devastation in his wake.
It was overwhelming, but Yadriel wouldn’t mind getting his breath robbed by Julian’s brilliant smile over and over again.
“Growth isn’t a deviation from what we’ve done before, but a natural progression to honor all those who make this community strong.”
Still, in a sea of faces, his eyes went right to Julian, and he couldn’t look away. His sharp grin. His burning gaze. It sparked a fire in his chest. It smoldered in his stomach. It flooded him with heat. Yadriel would happily let himself be consumed by Julian’s fire.
Aiden Thomas is a YA author with an MFA in Creative Writing. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, OR. As a queer, trans, latinx, Aiden advocates strongly for diverse representation in all media. Aiden’s special talents include: quoting The Office, Harry Potter trivia, Jenga, finishing sentences with “is my FAVORITE”, and killing spiders. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies, and organizes their bookshelves by color.