First things first, I just want to say that I would have loved to have access to this kind of book while I was still a teenager. Being a queer Latine, growing up in Midwest America, there was little to no representation and it would have been nice to even just read about others with a similar story to my own.
Now, onto my thoughts about this book. It was splendid! The cultural call outs are so well-written, and it’s definitely nice to see the problems within the Latine culture be acknowledged. It’s about time that the ideas/customs start changing as there’s quite a bit of toxicity within.
From the queer perspective, it feels great to see and read representation. It was a very moving narrative. And even if we expected to see a happy ending, it’s truly deserved because we deserve more happy endings!
I cannot wait to add a copy of this book to my shelf!
Rating this 3.5 star rounded down.
Thank you so much to Netgalley and SMP for setting this to a "read now" book. I have requested and read Jonny Garza Villa's books in the past and have absolutely loved them, so I knew I was going to do the same with his newest book. I feel like I am going to be in the minority here and say that this book was just okay.
The lose of losing his grandfather has hit Rafie hard, and it changes his whole behavior to the point where I almost DNF'ed the book. His behavior was very jerk-y and he treated everyone around him like crap. I understand he wants to make his grandfather proud, by being the best Mariachi, but I don't think his grandfather would have been proud of his behavior. He was very egotistical and no one wanted to be around him, and it's understanding why. Just when I thought he was starting to redeem himself, he goes and stabs Rey, his one true love, in the back, and it almost ruined the whole story for me. Rey, Xope, and Erik are the lights at the end of the tunnel that redeem this book. They all treat Rafie like an absolute gem and I really don't get why they want to be around him with the way he acts.
Outside of all this, the themes in this book are wonderful and handled very well. It includes a love story to Mariachi, how family can shape us, the process of grief, and finding your own place in this world. I love the queer rep in this book and, as always, it's handled so well. It portrays queer-teenage love in such a passionate and healthy way. Rey is my absolute favorite character in this book, and like I said, redeems the book in every way possible. He is such a fun-loving, hardworking character and wants to prove to the world who he is. The book makes you feel like you're in San Antonio with this crew, listening to Mariachi, and being on stage with them. It's a mix of English and Spanish, and I'm glad I read this on my kindle because I was able to translate a lot of the dialogue.
It makes you think and feel about your own life, about hard grief is, how hard it is to find yourself in a world you don't know, to navigate a world without your true number one people by your side, and to find the realest people in your life. Overall, this was a deep, hard-hitting book. and I think anyone who has read Jonny's books in the past will definitely enjoy this one.
I will be holding off on sharing my review until the SMP boycott comes to an end. Rating is also a placeholder.
i will not be rating or reviewing outside of netgalley as long as st. martin's press is still under boycott.
In support of the SMP boycott, I will be withholding my review of this title until SMP speaks out. If the boycott is resolved, I will update with a full review.
This was a really great read, thank you so much for letting me read an ARC. I don't know that I've read a book with a Mariachi star so that was definitely a fun piece.
Jonny Garza Villa does an amazing job creating characters that allow his readers to be seen in places they usually stay hidden. This story differs from others he has told, but his amazing characters remain. I hope the author knows how many lives he has changed for the positive because he is amazing. This story, about a queer mariachi dealing with the death of his grandfather and moving schools his senior year, is absolutely amazing.
Withholding my review during the SMP boycott. Will edit and update this once SMP addresses the concerns of readers and reviewers.
***I will not be posting this review online***
Canto Contigo is a YA, queer, coming-of-age, enemies-to-lovers romance centered around two queer Mexican-American boys with a shared passion for mariachi. Regrettably, I had to discontinue reading this book after reaching 57%, an unusual decision for me as I rarely DNF books. It marks the second book I've ever set aside.
Acknowledging the preliminary nature of ARCs, it's essential to keep in mind that the editing process may still be underway. While some grammatical errors are expected, it's also reasonable to anticipate potential changes to the story by the publication date. However, if this version closely mirrors the finalized one, I personally found it didn't resonate with me.
As a queer Mexican-American who has sung since childhood, I initially believed this book would be an ideal fit for me, regardless of its YA rating. I am an avid fan of YA literature, appreciating the youthful spirit it maintains. The inclusion of specific pop culture references in YA queer romance is a matter of personal preference, and I always find it to be a pet peeve. Such references can potentially date the narrative without contributing to humor, character development, or plot progression. While younger audiences may connect more with these elements, it didn't resonate well with me as a reader in my late 20s. Unfortunately, the specific pop culture references, such as nods to SpongeBob and the "why not both" meme felt cringe-worthy.
The protagonist, Rafie, significantly contributed to my overall dissatisfaction with the book. From the opening line on page one to nearly 60% of the way through, he appeared as an angry, egotistical, constantly horny, self-absorbed character with a god complex, often resorting to disrespectful language towards teachers and parents. As a first-generation Mexican-American, that behavior would typically lead to a chancla to the head, which felt disconnected from the cultural context. Not to mention, the multiple times Rafie referenced his “d*ck” was too much.
Addressing another aspect of Mexican-American identity, the use of Spanglish is a significant cultural element. However, the book's portrayal of certain Spanish words when predominantly conversing in English felt artificial, akin to the exaggerated "my mamá says I’m muy handsome" trope–when random Spanish words are placed in an English sentence. Similar observations extended to the portrayal of food, which seemed disconnected from authentic Mexican-American experiences. Most of my family lives in Texas and Mexico and Rafie has eaten more tacos than they have.
The overwhelming representation of queer characters in almost every role at the performing arts school felt somewhat forced. While the revelation of Rey being trans was appreciated, the subsequent unveiling of multiple queer characters, including Xope, Xolo, and even Arturo, felt more like pandering than genuine representation. As a queer individual, I believe that one's sexuality is just one facet of their identity, and the book's approach seemed to overly emphasize this aspect.
Amidst my reservations about certain elements, there was one aspect of the book that genuinely resonated with me: the exploration of the spiritual context and the significance we attribute to our departed loved ones. Family holds a paramount role in Latin culture, and even after their passing, we carry forward the love and reverence for their legacy, beautifully manifested in the magical tradition of Dia de Los Muertos, adorned with calavera imagery. The inclusion of the calavera mariachi, serving as Rafie's confidant and potentially embodying his grandfather's energy or spirit, struck me as a poignant and inventive concept within the narrative.
Sadly, I found most of Canto Contigo neither enjoyable to read nor entertaining. Considering its current state, I don’t believe it can stand among other queer Latino books as a commendable addition to our community's required reading list.
Jonny Garza Villa's Canto Contigo upends the traditional YA romance formula, blossoming into a vibrant exploration of identity, love, and cultural heritage.
Villa imbues the narrative with a distinct cultural flavor. Yet, beyond that, he delves into the intricacies of identity, particularly for Rafie, a cisgender gay boy navigating his Mexican-American heritage and expectations. His internal conflicts resonate deeply, offering a relatable portrayal of the struggles young adults face when forging their own paths.
But it's Rafie and Rey's romance that genuinely shines, unfolding in a refreshingly trans-normative setting where Rey, a trans gay boy, simply exists and thrives. This normalcy empowers both characters and readers, celebrating love in its purest form. And their dynamic goes beyond the typical rivals-to-lovers trope, simmering with genuine connection and begrudgingly mutual respect.
Rafie's mariachi calavera, an heirloom passed down from his late grandfather, adds further depth to this love story. More than just a symbol of his cultural heritage, it becomes a tangible manifestation of their connection. As Rafie confides in the calavera, seeking guidance and solace, it acts as a stand-in for the grandfather he lost, whispering encouragement and reminding him of the love that transcends physical presence. This unique element enriches the narrative, highlighting the enduring power of love and memory.
Canto Contigo is a celebration of identity, a love letter to cultural heritage, and a poignant exploration of love in all its forms. With grounded writing, relatable characters, and a setting that empowers diversity, Villa's story is a captivating read that leaves a lasting impression. It reminds us that love can bloom in unexpected places and that sometimes, the most powerful connections transcend even the boundaries of life and death.
4.5 stars! Thank you to NetGalley, Wednesday Books, and St. Martin's Press for this advanced copy! You can pick up Canto Contigo on April 9, 2024.
This was my first Jonny Garza Villa book, and it was absolutely beautiful. I loved Rafie and Rey and all the other characters Jonny created, and the way he wove their relationships together was just gorgeous. Rafie's struggles with his grandfather's death felt so visceral and helped us understand his character, and I love how Rey was the perfect foil for him.
It was so heartwarming to read a book full of queer rep, and set in a culture I'm not as familiar with. Jonny did a phenomenal job making the reader feel like they were stepping into Rafie's shoes, and he blended in so many cultural references seamlessly.
I'm still thinking about the ending and how it made me really reflect on my own family relationships and friendships. I'd definitely recommend this to someone who loves music, queer relationships, and tight family bonds!
I love that this is an own voices book on more than one level--the writer is both queer and Latinx. I didn't know much about Mariachi before reading this book and had no idea how competitive it was. It made me want to listen to and learn more about it. It was heartbreaking how the main character, while dealing with the loss of his grandfather, also had to deal with homophobia from his Mariachi bandmates. In addition, the other main character, an individual of color, has to deal with whether others consider him a "real" Mexican because his skin is darker than theirs.
But this is not just a story about prejudice. It is also about doing things that we love--but not necessarily for the right reason. It's about family and friends. It's about what's more important--our ambitions or people we care about.
And maybe it's even a love story as well.
Thank you to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
(Might adjust rating later, I keep going back and forth between 4 and 5 stars. So I guess consider a 4.5)
“It makes me miss [it] so much. So much it hurts. It always hurts. But it also helps me realize that I carry a little part of it all with me wherever I am.”
Not going to lie, I came for the mariachi plot and was sucker punched out of nowhere with one of the most raw stories about grief. I was not expecting it, but it was what the story needed. For a while I was worried that Rafie was just going to be this insufferable main character, but I liked the journey he takes throughout.
Rafie shows that grief, and healing, and growth are not linear. Just when he thinks he’s getting the hang of it, he spirals right back down again. I appreciate that others let him know that they were there to support him, but made it clear that they were not going to be waked on in the process (something that I think is often missing in plots like these).
Minor notes for inclusion of modern slang/other Gen Z-isms . While not too distracting from everything else, I just think that sometimes these can hurt rather than help the text, as modern terms and pop culture moves so fast nowadays that it almost dates the book in an attempt to seem topical and relevant.
Canto Contigo by Jonny Garza Villa is a fiesta for your feelings, performing a mariachi serenade of bittersweet romance against a sun-drenched Texas backdrop. This YA gem pits Rafie, a cis gay Mexican-American cutie with a mic in his hand and a dream in his heart, against Rey, a gay Afro-Mexicano trans boy, his one-time hookup and eventual high school mariachi band rival. Rafie's life is a whirlwind of rivalry, grief, and family expectations. The magical realism woven into the story, embodied by a mariachi calavera, adds a touch of the extraordinary to Rafie's journey of self-discovery. Villa paints every page with vibrant scenes of Latine pride and familia love, tugging at your heartstrings as Rafie juggles tradition and his own damn desires. Rafie's relatable struggle with perfectionism is so real. And Rafie and Rey's romance is a perfectly seasoned salsa–tangy banter, simmering frustration, and a slow burn that melts into a sweet, swoon-worthy finale, making Canto Contigo an anthem for finding your own harmony, no matter whose tune you're supposed to be singing.
This one has one of the most intersectional premises I have ever come across in YA. And the execution and immersion was flawlessly done. Where do I even begin! First, I LOVED Rafie's family! While the story does revolve around the inherently low-key homophobic and transphobic landscape that is usually any cultural art form, such as mariachi, it made my heart so happy that the baseline of this ONE family, SO celebrated in the mariachi scene is so loving and enthusiastically supportive of multiple out, queer children. So much so that the protagonist's whole emotional arc is to come to terms with the fact that literally no one is expecting him to overachieve or compensate for anything except his own adolescent brain cocktail of grief and displacement. While that is a very admirable theme in YA, I am not sure I was a fan of how infodumpy it was at times when Rafie would literally have to monologue about why he acts like the most insufferably arrogant jackass most of the time. I wish the POVs switched up to include Rey, because honestly, I was having a hard time understanding why he was putting up with Rafie's behavior most of the time and still wanted him. The cute bits of communication and connection through music were so unutterably cute through I regularly forgot about these not insignificant gripes I had. It's also fortuitous that I have been hitting the Spanish Duolingo recently, though, which helped me stay immersed with these characters and events. And if you think I looked up so much of the music mentioned in this that Spotify helpfully provided me a "Buenas Vibras" playlist, no I didn't.
Three for three for Jonny Garza Villa. I'm a sucker for characters and this book has so many great characters. including the background characters could each have their own books I'd happily read. I won't lie, Rafie was hard to like in the beggining but I'm glad I stuck with it. There is so much nuance and humanity in this exploration of grief and identiy, of belonging, of family and culture, of growing up and of being true to yourself. Jonny Garza Villa is an automatic buy for me,
Review withheld as part of the St Martin’s Press Boycott. I stand in solidarity wiith my fellow influencers in asking for a true apology and plan.
Reading Canto Contigo by Jonny Garza Villa was such a joyful experience. I loved that it was unapologetically queer and Mexican. When the characters spoke in Spanish and made references to Mexican culture, it didn't force a way to explain what it was talking about it. It's something so small but it's something I really appreciated. I thought the characters were well rounded (even with all their faults) and I liked the exploration of being and figuring out who you are when you lose someone you love dearly. I don't think it was a perfect book, Rafie's promise to his grandfather (and the central plot issue) felt a little too incomplete or vague. I'm not exactly sure how to explain it and I kind of forgot about it until it was brought up towards the middle of the book. Besides that, I really enjoyed it and I cannot wait for Garza Villa to post the playlist so I can listen to all the wonderful mariachi music that was mentioned throughout the book.
What a lovely book - there is no doubt that this will be one of my top books for 2024! You will laugh, cry, and feel everything in between with this - and you certainly won’t be disappointed!
Rafie is a rising mariachi star, bringing his high school group to victory at the annual mariachi contest for three years and is hoping for one more before graduating. Rafie wants to live up to the legacy of his recently deceased grandfather, his inspiration in mariachi. However, he was not anticipating having to move to San Antonio and transfer schools for his senior year. Anticipating having the lead vocalist position handed to him after his audition, he is shocked when he is not granted this and is forced to share the limelight with Rey - the guy he made out with at last year’s mariachi contest. Despite this new rivalry and many fights/confrontations to be THE leader for the group, both Rafie and Rey are forced to work together to win, and in the process, they start to turn from enemies-to-lovers.
This is my first book that I’ve read by Jonny Garza Villa, and I cannot wait to read through their entire back catalog of books! This was such a lovely coming of age queer story, packed with so much romance and passion. I loved the quick-witted, hilarious banter between Rafie and Rey, and found myself literally laughing out loud at many parts. The dialogue felt so realistic and appreciated the natural flowing Spanglish throughout. Rey was my absolute favorite character - there is no way you can read this and not fall in love with him. I also appreciated the focus on grief and the loss of a close loved one. Villa does a phenomenal job with portraying Rafie’s struggle with losing his grandfather and what that meant for his life and future; it felt authentic and raw. Overall, this is such an emotional, heartwarming, and lovely queer YA rom-com that will have your heart singing throughout!
Thank you St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the ARC!
After absolutely loving Villa’s previous title, Ander & Santi Were Here, my expectations for this title were high. Those expectations were met and then some. Canto Contigo focuses on Rafael, a rising mariachi star, and his experiences when he has to transfer schools during his senior year. This title tackles so many important topics like Machismo culture, Mariachi traditions, and the Mexican-American identity. Jonny Garza Villa is an auto-read author for me and their work deserves a place in every YA collection.