Book Review: THE CEMETERY BOYS (2015) by Heather Brewer
Updated: Jan 6
I wanted to kick off one of my first posts of 2021 with a book review, especially since it's been a while! I'm deviating slightly from my usual contemporary YA, however, into YA Horror. As someone who's writing a horror novel right now, it's important for me to know what's been published in recent years and see if my book could hit the market at the right time. That being said, The Cemetery Boys was a great place to start.
Note: this is not to be confused with Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, which came out in 2020.
Stephen has just moved with his dad to middle-of-nowhere Spencer, the sleepy hometown his dad grew up in. Due to financial issues, Spencer's icy grandmother has allowed them to live with them until Stephen's dad can get back on his feet.
With nothing better to do, Stephen finds himself bonding with the twins down the street--the enchanting, tarot-card-reading Cara and her troublemaking brother Devon, who spends his time with the boys at the cemetery. Stephen quickly learns that there's something off about this group of guys. They keep secrets from him about the legend of the Winged Ones, the giant bird-like creatures Devon sketches in his notebook.
But what if these creatures were real? What if Stephen's been part of something sinister all along?
The writing style
The writing was fine. Nothing special and quite invisible. I don't credit this as a negative, however. I like writing that isn't distracting because it enables me to enjoy the story more. Brewer certainly tried to insert some voicey-ness into her protagonist to make Stephen seem more dynamic and humorous, but I don't know how effective it was. I found him mildly funny, but nothing about his observations or narrative voice felt inventive or surprising. Instead, it felt rather generic.
Brewer gave us a handful of interesting and pretty-well-developed characters: Stephen, Cara, and Devon. Everyone else--Stephen's dad, Stephen's grandmother, Markus, and the other cemetery boys whose names I can't remember--are flat and lack substance. Now, I'm not saying you have to develop every single character (in fact, you shouldn't), but I needed a little bit more. Since Brewer did not delve deeper into her secondary characters, the story felt two-dimensional.
I do think Brewer did a good job with her leading three. I found Cara, in particular, really intriguing, and Devon gave me the heebie-geebies.
Setting and tone
This is something the book has going for it. Brewer creates this atmospheric pull early on with the remote town, the mouthy old guys at the hardware store, the preppy kids and the sketchy kids, and of course, the cemetery. There's this underlining suspicion that something unsettling is going on, but we don't quite know what it is. This was undoubtedly my favorite part of the book.
The plot is okay. Not spectacular, but not horrifically bad. I do feel like there was an escalation of tension, and that things were generally getting worse, but overall, the plot felt too repetitive and slow. The scenes did not pull their weight. Some of them were largely unnecessary because we weren't learning new information or discovering much more about the characters (at least not as much as I would have liked). There were a lot of missed opportunities for depth, complexity, and thematic resonance.
Beyond the plot feeling repetitive, the setting was, too. I know I said a second ago that I liked the setting (I do), and I realize there are limitations to setting your book in a small, secluded town, but I grew bored of revisiting the same three or four places. All the scenes at the cemetery felt the same to me, and the characters essentially kept having the same conversations.
The ending [spoiler free]
I didn't mind the ending. There were some delightfully dark twists that were quite satisfying, but I wasn't a fan of the set-up. It felt a little cheesy, with the bad guy giving a monologue of the devious plan from the beginning while the good guy runs for his life. I didn't really buy it.
There was also one major creative choice/plot twist that I didn't really understand. I know this is a horror book, but I don't really like random tragedy for the sake of conflict, without it really adding anything thematically.
My rating (out of five):
* * *
The Cemetery Boys was a nice warm-up for my journey down the horror path. My review makes the book sound worse than it actually was, but I truly did enjoy most of it for what it was.