Ander & Santi Were Here

Ander & Santi Were Here
Age Range
Release Date
May 02, 2023
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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe meets The Sun is Also a Star in this YA contemporary love story from Jonny Garza Villa, Ander & Santi Were Here, about a nonbinary Mexican American teen falling for the shy new waiter at their family’s taqueria.

Finding home. Falling in love. Fighting to belong.

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.

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1 review
powerful and heartfelt YA contemporary
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ANDER & SANTI WERE HERE is a heartfelt YA contemporary romance about family, immigration, and art. The story is told from the perspective of Ander, who is taking a gap year before going to art college to do a series of mural installations in his hometown of San Antonio. They have a lot of talent, though they are still honing their own style. While they do their art, they also work for their Tita's restaurant as a server - or they did until he was fired by their family to work on their art full-time. The person they have replaced them with is Santiago (Santi), a 19-year-old immigrant who happens to be undocumented.

From the start, Ander finds themself drawn towards Santi, and the feeling seems mutual. However, a relationship seems like it might be too complex given that Ander might be heading to Chicago for art school soon, and Santi's status adds a lot of personal complications, particularly with ICE conducting raids in their neighborhood so frequently. Only they can answer what they are willing to sacrifice to hold onto the love they are beginning to feel.

What I loved: This was first and foremost a romance read. The relationship grew slowly as they spend time together and get to know each other, primarily through car rides and work interactions, as Ander continues to be at their family's restaurant a lot. The chemistry between them was great, and it was a strong LGBT relationship that was easy to buy into and cheer for. The complications begin to arise later in the story as Ander understands the full scope of what all is facing Santi. In addition to his status, he also has a family who are detained elsewhere.

Though these elements took a backseat to the romance, they were really strong, depicting the fear, confusion, and anxiety produced by immigration/ICE for any who may look less white. Even though Ander was born in the US, due to their appearance, they have seen firsthand the fear and anxiety these questions can create, beginning with an episode when they were little. These are things others do not have to face and really brings the consequences and feelings to the reader from multiple fronts. Similarly, themes around Ander's art and choice of expressions is another area where they experience prejudices, beginning with systemic ones that mean they are self-taught (since their lower income/under-funded school did not have art classes until high school). This extends to their experiences in applying for art schools, where they are rejected for being too niche or only placed in that niche. Ander wants to find their own style but the rules around what they are allowed to depict and the styles they are allowed to use can feel confining. They are learning to stand up for themselves and their talent in the course of the story.

Family is another big theme for both Ander and Santi. Ander's family was really lovely to see with a multi-generational household and business that were generally supportive of each other while also providing guidance and love. Santi's relationship with his family has been complicated by distance, but he feels the pull and love all the same. While this was a smaller theme, it was great to see their family dynamics and support.

The ending surprised me, but it was also really powerful.

Final verdict: ANDER & SANTI WERE HERE is a lovely YA contemporary about family, art, immigration, and falling in love that is sure to touch readers' hearts. Highly recommend for fans of SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BITTER AND SWEET, BRIGHTER THAN THE SUN, and SOMETHING IN BETWEEN. 
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