Book Reviews

Review: Ander & Santi Were Here by Jonny Garza Villa

Ander & Santi Were Here screams characters. Actual tears were shed while reading. This is a heart rending emotional and joyful book about love and community. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.


The Santos Vista neighborhood of San Antonio, Texas, is all Ander Martínez has ever known. The smell of pan dulce. The mixture of Spanish and English filling the streets. And, especially their job at their family’s taquería. It’s the place that has inspired Ander as a muralist, and, as they get ready to leave for art school, it’s all of these things that give them hesitancy. That give them the thought, are they ready to leave it all behind?

To keep Ander from becoming complacent during their gap year, their family “fires” them so they can transition from restaurant life to focusing on their murals and prepare for college. That is, until they meet Santiago López Alvarado, the hot new waiter. Falling for each other becomes as natural as breathing. Through Santi’s eyes, Ander starts to understand who they are and want to be as an artist, and Ander becomes Santi’s first steps toward making Santos Vista and the United States feel like home.

Until ICE agents come for Santi, and Ander realizes how fragile that sense of home is. How love can only hold on so long when the whole world is against them. And when, eventually, the world starts to win.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

Ander & Santi Were Here is a multi-faceted glimmering story. On one level, it’s a story about love with secrets, in spite of our fear of loss. It feels achingly real. The romance story line straddles this line between being universally gutting – this fear of what happens if it doesn’t work out which plagues us before it begins – all the way to having a partner who is in fear of being caught and thrown out of their home. Home is a major theme in Garza Villa’s latest.

About the people, the community, the experiences that create this sense of home. Home is not always where we live. And throughout Ander & Santi Were Here, the idea of home and community is explored. Ander is not only struggling with the perceptions of their gap year, they are also thinking about what their identity means to them. To balancing this line between outright racism and rejection of their identity, all the way to a tokenization of their culture.

(Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links. For more information you can look at the Policy page. If you’re uncomfortable with that, know you can look up the book on any of the sites below to avoid the link)

Ander & Santi Were Here is a tender story about not knowing what we are ready for, of being afraid of change, of having to grapple with the presence, the impact, we make in the world. The ways in which we choose the moments on our journey and to find out what person we want to be when we wake up. Find Ander & Santi Were Here on Goodreads, Storygraph, Amazon,, & Blackwells.


What is your favorite YA contemporary which explores home and identity?

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