YA book centers around a queer San Antonio love story

“Ander & Santi Were Here” explores love and art in a South Texas taqueria.

By Kristen CabreraJuly 31, 2023 3:54 pm, , ,

For Jonny Garza Villa, finding inspiration for their second YA novel was tough. But they always knew it would revolve around a taqueria, especially when 2020 came around and they began to miss the restaurants. 

“I love food. I love writing about food. I love writing about food in relation to Mexican culture,” Garza Villa said.

But along with 2020 came social justice issues and Black Lives Matter marches which Garza Villa joined in solidarity. After the publishing of the novel “American Dirt,” and the controversy which arose alongside its popularity, Garza Villa set out to write their next story.

“That really just set off this pettiness in me to want to write something that was by my community and for my community, first and foremost,” Garza Villa said. “So I was like ‘OK, this is gonna be the book that does it. It’s settled – this is what I’m going to write.'”

The contemporary YA romance “Ander & Santi Were Here” is the result.

After going viral on TikTok and Instagram, Garza Villa says many Latine or nonbinary readers have said how much the characters have resonated with them, just wanting to be themselves in their own community.

“To know that this book is bigger in such a way – it’s teaching how easy it is just to be accepting of gender identity – has really been a thing I did not expect, but something that I really loved that happened” Garza Villa said.

The book is also “Grandma-approved” – at least by their own grandmother.

“She mentioned the emotionality of it,” Garza Villa said. “The way in which she was able to just see the humanity of specifically Santi as a person.”

Writing for a nonbinary character was something Garza Villa says they enjoyed – a way to vicariously live through the character’s eyes.

“Just being able to write a story where their queerness and their gender identity wasn’t at the center of the book and wasn’t part of their trauma and wasn’t part of the plot,” Garza Villa said,”it was just something that was and is a part of them and everyone around them was just like maybe the most fictional part of the story, but it was something that I really got to enjoy writing.”

Garza Villa’s award-winning first book is “Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun” a first-love novel which involves coming out and being your true self. Their next book, “Canto Contigo,” is an enemies-to-lovers romp with dueling high school mariachis expected to release April 2024.

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