Cover Image: Ander & Santi Were Here

Ander & Santi Were Here

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Member Reviews

This story was so beautiful and heart wrenching. A story that causes you to reminisce about the joy and butterflies of a relationship that is starting to bloom. A story of two young men trying to figure out who they are and how they fit together in a world that only sees them as colors, not humans. I enjoyed every second of this book.

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Ander Lopez has been blessed to grow up in the diverse neighborhood of Santos Vista, Texas with a family that loves them and supports their work as a muralist. Ander has had more opportunities than most with a gap year to do a residency with a local community organization that has been able to help Ander put their work up on the walls of not just Santos Vista, but near by San Antonio as well. But even seeing their art in these local venues is not enough to make Ander feel secure when facing questions from their advisor at the Chicago Institute of Art, who only seems to see Ander as a point of diversity. Increasingly frustrated and questioning their choices, it is only when Ander meets Santiago Garcia, the newest employee at the family dinner, that Ander begins to find answers. Santiago sees, understands, and accepts Ander in a way no one else has before. Their new love is challenged not only by the changes coming up in Ander's life, but Santiago's status as an illegal immigrant in a town where ICE agents run rampant. Will their new love be strong enough to withstand the forces of change and politics?

I was pulled in by the exquisite artwork for this cover. It is perhaps the most beautiful 2023 cover I have seen thus far. And Ander is a lovely main character. I loved the nonbinary Mexican American representation and the fact that we get to read about this young queer teen who has lived a good life in a diverse community with acceptance and love from their family. This is very much an every day romance with a slow build story line. I got a little impatient for the book to get where it was going and didn't fully agree with Ander's decisions at the end. That said, I do think there are teens for whom Ander & Santi's story will resonate for a a number of reasons whether it is the love, friendship, family, art, immigration, or complex nature of any number of these things in life.

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I will be honest: I have not yet finished this book. I will 100% update this review once I am done with it, but I just need to SCREAM about it to yall.

First of all, Avi has hit it out of the park once again. They're voice work is untouchable, and adds a level of professionalism that cannot be overstated.

Jonny's writing in this is so. Real. They're dialogue, their descriptions and ways that things are presented, especially things like revelations to Ander, are just so very perfect. As a legal Hispanic person in the US, it is still SO SCARY right now, and while Ander & Santi is often times hilarious and made me scream obscenities in my car, Jonny is still able to create a balance between the lighthearted fun of a teenage kid, and the heavy topics that pervade this book, from racism in the art world and ICE to being an internal puta more than an external one.

Please preorder this book, I adore it, I am voraciously listening whenever I have an excuse to, and I cannot wait for more from them!

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I loved this so much. Reading books like this always makes me wish I knew more Spanish, but I actually appreciate that the parts in Spanish were not translated. I teach freshmen, so the sex references are probably a bit much to deal with in a whole class setting (though nothing is too graphic - the language makes it clear enough without being detailed). I am happy that I have a copy in my classroom and I would love to find a way to incorporate it as a book choice in a unit.
I really liked how it explored the issue of undocumented immigrants by making it personal and showing that you cannot make assumptions without knowing the details. It was also just a beautiful story and I loved seeing Ander find his true voice in his art.

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Thank you to NetGalley, Macmillan Audio, Macmillan Young Listeners, Wednesday Books, Jonny Garza Villa, and Avi Roque (audio narrator) for the opportunity to read and listen to the audiobook of Ander & Santi Were Here in exchange for an honest review.

Ander works at their mother's Mexican cuisine restaurant, though she wants them to focus on their murals in preparation for going to art school. When Santiago is hired, it's pretty much love at first sight for Ander. When Ander and Santi begin hanging out together, they try to be just friends, but of course that's impossible.

But Santi has a secret: he's an illegal immigrant. While Ander and their mom are Mexican-American, born in the United States, they have both certainly had their own  scares with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Knowing Santi could be deported adds fear to the relationship he and Ander have, but they will find a way to fight through it and be there for each other.

With a huge emphasis on the Mexican-American experience, including LGBTQ and racial stereotypes, this novel shows the struggle of a young Hispanic person seeking to pursue their own dream and the challenges that come with being of a certain culture. There is a lot to learn from this stand-alone novel, and it is a magnificent work. Ander & Santi Were Here is a brilliant piece of writing for a teen and new adult audience that speaks multitudes on a cultural, gender, and equality level. An excellent must-read!

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4.5/5 stars

General Description: Ander has been working at their family taqueria while taking a gap year before moving to Chicago. Ander's family fires them to allow them to focus on their artwork (specificaly murals around the city). Of course, they had to hire help, and they hired Santi. Santi has a secret that Ander's family is protecting, but that secret causes tension as Ander and Santi begin to explore their relationship. Can their relationship survive the internal and external pressures, or will they crumble under it?

The good:
- Shout out to Avi Roque for a beautiful narration that nearly brought me to tears.
- This book explored the complexities of living near the border in the US today while also giving the characters not a detrimental ending.
- Character driven stories are not my favorite, but this character driven story was captivating and had me caring about every main character.
- I like how it was modern without being overwhelming full of pop culture references, it seems to take on a timeless voice.

The loss of a half star:
- The pacing at the beginning vs the end was stark and I just wish it was more consistent. Otherwise, I loved it.

Overall: READ THIS when it comes out. Especially if you're looking for an emotional book, you will be in for a treat.

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Ander & Santi Were Here is a poignant coming of age romance that follows Ander (Mexican American, nonbinary) and Santi (undocumented Mexican, bisexual boy) who fall in love but face the reality of their situation once ICE starts stalking Santi. ⁣⁣
I immediately fell in love with both Ander & Santi and couldn’t help rooting for them as a couple and as individuals pursuing their dreams. I also love how the author showed that even though both characters are Mexican, how drastically different their cultural experiences have been due to their life experiences.⁣⁣
I wanted nothing more then to sit in the taqueria, eat all the incredible food, and just watch this incredible family interact and love on each other. ⁣⁣
I also really appreciated the author’s insight into how vastly different life can be for someone who is undocumented and the struggles that it entails. Ander definitely gets a wake up call because it’s one thing to experience harassment as a Brown person from the police, but there’s an additional layer of fear when someone is undocumented. ⁣⁣
Honesty, I can’t recommend this one enough! ⁣⁣
Also, if you’re an audiobook lover, it’s narrated by one of my faves…Avi Roque who is nonbinary!

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This was so precious -- I LOVE ANDER! They were such a fun, lovable, tender main character to follow. I'm glad this was in first-person (and listening to the audiobook was fantastic!) because I loved Ander's POV.

I appreciated Ander's parents, and wish more were like them :/ Especially in San Antonio, Texas. I love that representation for younger queer non binary folks. *insert tearing up emoji here* Also, I am crying over how they refer to Ander's flirtatious nature so much. My parents would never and I'm jealous lol. They don't want Ander to become complacent during their gap year before they leave for art school in Chicago, IL so they are let go from the family taqueria to focus on their art.

Santi, the new waiter at the family restaurant, catches Ander's eye and they form a connection quickly. It's so sweet and precious. However, Ander's parents warned them against starting something with Santi, but didn't explain why. When ICE agents arrive unexpectedly to the restaurant, Ander begins to put the puzzle pieces together.

Regardless, these two fall in love and help each other's coming of age journey with the time they have left together. There are no on-page sex scenes, only alluded to or talked about.

Regarding Ander's art journey, I LOVED that they discuss how they want their art to stand on their own, and they don't just want to focus on Mexican American art history -- yes, that's important and Ander is grateful to those who came before them but their art doesn't have to mirror that. Their art can be something new and fresh and representative of their intersectional self, rather than just hyperfocusing on the Mexican American part. This isn't an attempt to erase their Mexican identity either -- they just don't want to do what everyone else thinks Mexican American art is and doesn't want to be pigeonholed into that. They want their art (and everyone's) to be expressive of anything and everything, not limited to "but does this represent *the* Mexican American experience?"

This discussion reminded me a lot of Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou, where the professor kept telling his Asian American students that their writing didn't "reflect the Asian American experience enough" gooooodness gracious!

Anyway, I loved this romance/coming of age & will continue to read anything Jonny Garza Villa writes!

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4.5 stars rounded up.

oh this book--i want to read it again already. new adult queer romance, so much about immigration and justice, family and work and art and futures. i was swept up in everyone and everything. all of them deserved better from the world. i listened to this and it was really well narrated.

i don't know if school libraries will allow this bc drugs and sex are pretty explicit but they should.

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Another beautiful queer love story by Jonny Garza Villa, filled with hilarious dialogue, vivid lovable characters, heart-wrenching scenes, and heartwarming growth. Ander’s story talks about finding meaning in your work, what it means to create, and the balance of making art about your identities, not because it’s expected of you as a result of who you are, but rather how you want to express yourself. Ander, Santi, and the whole family and crew were a joy to get to know. I was absolutely moved by their fierce love and protectiveness of each other.

Avi Roque brought these characters to life wonderfully. The voice for Ander in particular perfectly captured their sass, enthusiasm, sarcasm, and every emotion in between. I have loved their work in every audiobook I’ve heard, and this one was no exception.

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𝘼 𝙔𝘼 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙤𝙧𝙖𝙧𝙮 𝙡𝙤𝙫𝙚 𝙨𝙩𝙤𝙧𝙮 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙖 𝙣𝙤𝙣𝙗𝙞𝙣𝙖𝙧𝙮 𝙈𝙚𝙭𝙞𝙘𝙖𝙣 𝘼𝙢𝙚𝙧𝙞𝙘𝙖𝙣 𝙩𝙚𝙚𝙣 𝙛𝙖𝙡𝙡𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙛𝙤𝙧 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙨𝙝𝙮 𝙣𝙚𝙬 𝙬𝙖𝙞𝙩𝙚𝙧 𝙖𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙞𝙧 𝙛𝙖𝙢𝙞𝙡𝙮’𝙨 𝙩𝙖𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙧𝙞𝙖.

📍 Read if you like:
• Mexican Characters
• Love Stories
• Queer Rep
• Murals And Food

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started reading this book, but I definitely was not expecting to get emotional. This really hit deep with a love story between an undocumented Mexican male and a non-binary Mexican American… There were mentions of ICE and the border policy that had me sobbing. As someone who has undocumented family members, it was tough reading about these moments. I have witnessed it happen and it’s never something you would ever want to happen to you.

I really think Jonny Garza Villa did a phenomenal job at writing this beautiful but also heartbreaking story with these characters you will absolutely love. I have been to San Antonio before and I think this book portrays the beautiful city so well. The mention of food with the taqueria and the murals around the city… oh man, I felt so emerged in the story and setting.

I can’t explain how much I loved Ander and Santi. They both were so likable and I related to both of them in different traits. They soon become friends but later grow a strong relationship.

This book really made me question what “home” really meant - not just a roof over our heads, but also surrounded by those who love us (family, friends, etc.)

I felt all kinds of emotions while reading this book. At one moment I was giggling while for another moment I was sobbing. This story is beautiful - it really is. Also, my stomach was growling throughout the book. It made me want mangoes, paletas, and tacos with some salsa - I was seriously hungry reading this book.

I had a few small issues with the book, however, they were very minor and they didn’t take the enjoyment I had with the book. Honestly, this book is beautiful and written so well. The characters are lovable. The setting is extremely incredible. As a Mexican reviewer, I would highly recommend this book. It's not only this YA Queer Mexican love story, there’s a bigger message being addressed that I think it’s very important to read about.
Thank you Wednesday Books and NetGalley for the gifted e-ARC and ALC in exchange for my honest review, all thoughts are my own!

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I think I have found an Instabuy author based off of this book. I absolutely loved it. It had me feeling all the emotions. I’m just never wanted it to end. Such a lovely book.

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This was absolutely beautiful and a roller coaster of emotions. The story is so well constructed and the pacing was perfect. Ander is an amazing narrator and their emotions came across as organic and sometimes crushing. Santi is such a complex love interest and the way he progressed throughout the novel was very compelling to read. It is full of love, care, art, and amazing commentary on how desensitized you can become when ICE has been a terror for as long as you have been alive. Avi Roque did an amazing job at narrating this book. They are really excelling at creating distinct voices for their character. I cannot wait to see what they do next.

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Ander & Santi Were Here was my first novel by Jonny Garza Villa but definitely WILL NOT be my last!

Ander Martinez has always stayed in Texas. They loves their family’s restaurant and the smells that waft through the streets of San Antonio. Inspiration to paint murals came from here and they’re finally ready to branch out and attend art school in Chicago. Then, they meet Santiago Lopez Alvarado, the handsome waiter. Falling in love is as easy as saying abc.

However; Santi is an immigrant who doesn’t have a ViSA to be in America and ICE is at his tail. Ander has to come to terms with what is exactly important in life and love.

I couldn’t stop listening to the audio production of Ander & Santi Were Here narrated by Anvi Roque. Roque brought Ander’s story to life and made me feel like I was inside their head. The emotions were felt as these two characters fell in love and then ran away from danger pushing at their backs . The accents and Spanish placed throughout flowed seamlessly and I would forever recommend doing the audio version of this tale.

Thank you MacMillian Audio and Netgalley for my alc in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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I'd like to thank the publisher for providing me with an ARC for the audiobook of this important book.
There is very important representation for nonbinary folk and undocumented persons. Unfortunately, for me at least, the representation and important political messages were the most successful parts of this. I struggled to relate to the POV character (and that's okay - I'm a white guy in my 40s, so it could very well just be that I'm not a relevant audience for the book); they came across as entitled and whiny -- I know so many creative queer folk (especially PoC) who would have given anything to have had parents supportive of both a career in the arts and their queerness, so I really struggled with Ander's complaints about them. Unfortunately, this took me out of it pretty early on. And, in the arts there's always been an 'outsider' vs. establishment dynamic and so Ander going to AIC just always seemed like a bad fit, even before their advisor's cringiness became apparent. So, in the end, I found myself not really caring about this major plot point. This all sounds like a pan, and I don't intend it to be. There was a lot to like here. It's still a solid 4/5 stars for me and I'll highlight the positives in both my blog review and on my dedicated Instagram.

A guardely positive review will appear on my blog and Instagram closer to the release date.

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4.5 stars!

"Ander & Santi Were Here" by Jonny Garza Villa is a brilliant and beautiful story of love, acceptance, humor, and heartache. Doesn't everybody yearn for a connection like Ander and Santi's? Though their courtship beings quickly, Villa spends his time crafting their relationship so readers feel their affinity for one another from their very first interaction. This book will make even the coldest hearts thaw. Villa tackles some tough subjects like immigration/ICE, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia in a very real, candid way. He intersperses these issues alongside a coming-of-age tale full of art, passion, and LGBTQIA+ pride as the nonbinary Ander falls in love with the undocumented Santi. "Ander and Santi Were Here" will make you laugh, it will certainly make you cry, it will make you joyful, and it will make you want to scream at such an unjust system headed by a morally bankrupt few who make it their main mission to misunderstand and hate. Some readers will find these topics to be difficult to digest because they may hit so close to home, but I urge you to stick with this book if you are able. Audiobook narrator Avi Roque brings Ander and Santi to life in a glorious way. His narration is some of the best I have ever heard. His voice brings the heat and the sweet, his every word describing the colors, the music, and the food with precision and pizzazz. My one critique is that the story drags just a little bit in the middle, but not so much that it detracts from the story as a whole.

Thank you to NetGalley, Jonny Garza Villa, and Macmillan Audio, and Macmillan Young Listeners for providing me with an ARC copy of this book! All opinions are my own, and I was not compensated for my review.

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This is such a phenomenal story filled with endearing love and heartbreak and humor. The story was so well-written and real, tackling immigration, sexuality, gender expression, major life decision, and so much more. I loved the characters and the phenomenal representation this book holds. It packs so much in under 400 pages, and I would highly recommend this read to anyone.


Thank you Netgalley for providing a digital ARC.

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The Ander & Santi Were Here audiobook is beautiful and feels genuine to its characters and the struggles of its communities. As a trans* nonbinary person, I identified a great deal with Ander, but this book allowed me to gain more understanding into the experiences of intersectional identities that I greatly appreciated. The experiences that the title couple goes through provide such a good jumping off point for so many conversations that need to be happening in communities other than those directly affected. There was so much joy in this book and so much heartbreak. The narrator for the audiobook was a perfect voice for Ander and I really appreciated the energy they put into the production.

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This book is so full of life and energy. It starts off with very YA vibes, teenagers pining for each other, making brash decisions and bold declarations, but there are some very serious themes that underlay the fun flirty romance.

Anders is genderqueer and it’s not really a focus of the book and because the entire book is in first person there’s not a lot of neutral pronoun use, but it is discussed in bits and pieces and adds an extra layer of diversity to the book.

The main focus of the second half of the book is around Santi’s legal status as an undocumented immigrant, and the challenges immigrants face in the US.

There’s also a continuing theme of found family and profound love throughout the entire book and it’s beautiful at times and also heartbreaking.

Thank you to NetGalley for the free ARC and you should absolutely go check out this book when it comes out!

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I had this sitting in my Netgalley list and was planning to read it closer to the release date. But then the Trans Rights Readathon happened and I took it and ran with it lol I was hyped to read this and when I got the chance to read it early, I was like welp! And Lordt this was the best book I could have cheated on my TBR with. I think this was my favorite book of March!

Ok so starting with the individuals like I always do with romances. Ander was a joy to get to know. They were funny, smart, and just everything. It’s really hard to describe them because how does it sound when you say, “they just had some of the best qualities about them.” It sounds so cliche. But it’s 1,000% true. Ander just seemed to be the ideal partner, ideal friend, ideal kid, just everything. I loved being in their head. And then there was Santi. He was the sweetest and he did not deserve any of the stuff that was happening to him. The saying “bad things always happen to good people” was never more true than when they were talking about him. I DID wish we had gotten some chapters from his POV, but I also think that would have ruined me lol I was already an emotional wreck reading this, I don’t think I could have handled an inside look at how all that b.s. made him feel.

As for the plot, this was much more than a romance. And the way it tackled things that are happening in today’s society. And I really applaud Garza for not being afraid to not go with the tied up with a bow, neat ending that everyone might have been expecting. This was more sad, but it was also more realistic. I hated that, but it’s true. Just know that I spent the last 30% of this audio crying real tears because this seemed so real. Now when it got to that big decision, I think it was a bit rushed. A decision like that can’t be taken that lightly. But I do applaud them for taking that chance. They deserved that chance.

The romance in this was so tender and so sweet. I felt the love radiating off the pages. (Out of my earphones? lol) And it happened so fast! I thought it was like a teen thing, but the more I read and the more they interacted with each other, I saw they headed towards each other like a freight train and then BAM everything changed. I knew it was going to be heavy when Ander’s mom tried warning them from getting with Santi. But it couldn’t be helped. But unfortunately, everything worked out just like their mom said it would. But there’s still a happy ending. It just looks very different than I was expecting.

Although this book is a romance, the theme and elements make it pretty heavy. Please have tissue on hand when reading. Since I read this so early no one warned me and I was listening to the audio while trying to get my toddler to sleep lol He kept patting my face and looking at me cry lol I also had to take some breaks because there’s some interactions with the police. And although I don’t have any personal memories of interacting with the branch in this book, as a Black person I know what it’s like to be accosted by the police. Just reading it was scary and I needed a minute. I hate them and what they were doing. To teens no less. I also had to take a break because I knew what was going to happen from the moment it was introduced. My anxiety knew it was a matter of when it was happening so my heart kept speeding up. It’s that type of book y’all. I was INVESTED.

And lastly, I wouldn’t be a foodie if I didn’t talk about the food that was also in this. Like LORDT by the halfway mark I was craving agua fresca and by the end I need the elote, the tacos, and the agua fresca. I needed it all. I don’t think it was as good as the book’s restaurant, but it was good enough for my craving. I remember finishing this book at like 3 am and by 3pm the next day I had put in an order at my local taqueria lol So basically, if you’re like me, make sure you have an idea on where you’re going to get these things because you will need it.

And the audio of this was superb! Avi Roque did amazing. There were points where Ander was scared and Roque portrayed that in thier voice. And they were able to make the teens have two very distinct voices and I was never wondering who was who. It was just a great performance and I loved every second of it.

This book explores so much more than just a romance between two teens. I know I have no say in this, but in my mind it really needs to be looked at for the Pura Belpre award. I was hooked while getting to know Santi and Ander and I really think everyone reading this will also be. I really hope we give Garza their flowers because this book (and they) deserves the recognition.

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