Jonny Garza Villa on their new YA novel, Canto Contigo

"It’s been an honor to share my community and my culture with readers, and I think Canto Contigo is so specifically a celebration of that."


If you’ve read any of Jonny Garza Villa’s books before, you’ll be no stranger to their talent for writing a coming-of-age love story that’ll pull on every one of your heart strings and have you giggling, grinning and sniffling in equal measures. Canto Contigo, their newest YA novel, is no different. Part lovers-to-rivals-to-lovers romance and part love letter to mariachi, Canto Contigo is an unforgettable story of queerness, community, passion and grief and we’re so incredibly happy to have had the chance to talk to Jonny all about it.

Hi Jonny! I’m so thrilled to get to chat to you again today, this time to celebrate the release of your stunning new YA contemporary novel, Canto Contigo. For readers who may just be hearing about it, do you have an elevator pitch of sorts for them?

Hello, Kate! Always such a pleasure to get to chat with you. Can you believe we’re at book three? The JGV Literary Universe continues to expand! So, Canto Contigo is a very queer, very Mexican contemporary YA with a dash of magical realism; it’s part grief story, part rivals-to-lovers romance, and all about the epic highs and lows of high school mariachi.

Can you tell us a little about your inspirations behind the book and Rafie’s story?

Maybe in continuation with Ander & Santi Were Here, where a lot of the vibes and emotions I wanted to evoke came from Robert Mapplethorpe’s “Two Men Dancing,” a photograph also inspired my want to write this incredibly gay mariachi story. For Canto Contigo, it was this picture of two male presenting mariachis kissing behind a sombrero. I saw it and was immediately, like, “I need to write this book!”

 With Rafie in particular, it was interesting because I think, compared to the main characters who came before him, I had a pretty good idea of who he was before I started drafting. I didn’t have to spend revision after revision to build him up as a main character. I knew he was very much a Leo sun, I knew that I wanted him to be “unlikeable” (although what that looked like did change pretty tremendously), and I knew I wanted readers to see, through him, that being unlikeable and being human are often incredibly synonymous. I wanted to create an arc for him that was about growing pains in the mental and emotional sense. And I think I wanted to look into my own personal fear of being vulnerable; we definitely share that quality.

Mariachi plays a huge part in the book and Rafie and Rey’s life but is this a passion you share with them and if so, how did it come about?

It is absolutely a shared passion! My granddad, who this book is dedicated to, was a mariachi, much like Rafie’s own abuelo. And, way back when, I was actually meant to join the mariachi group at the public high school in my home town but, long story short, ended up going to the Catholic high school instead and going the marching band route, so I think this might be me being able to live that life that wasn’t through Rafie and Rey and all the other members of Todos Colores.


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If Jules, Mat, Ander and Santi (the main characters from your previous two novels) were to join a Mariachi group, what instrument/position do you think they’d play and why?

So, fun fact, originally, in early drafts of Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun (before it was even called that), Jules actually was in mariachi alongside—his friends and supporting characters—Itzel and Rolie. He played trumpet, mostly because I also played trumpet for many years and that was simply another self-insert. But, for the rest of them, Mat does canonically play guitar, so I think he’d be a guitarist. For Ander, I’m getting big violin energy, it’s, like, playful and colorful in sound, and I think that would match them; and for Santi, I think he might be standing next to Rafie with a guitarrón, sort of that low bass, background, quieter, but also very integral part of the group.

For many readers, Canto Contigo may be their first real introduction to Mariachi. I imagine that must be quite exciting as an author to know you’re bringing something new into the lives of your readers?

Incredibly so! It’s been an honor to share my community and my culture with readers, and I think Canto Contigo is so specifically a celebration of that. I’m already hearing from readers how they’re going to Spotify and looking up the songs that are mentioned and that Rafie and Rey sing in the book; songs they’ve never heard of or listened to before or songs they know that have been transformed into mariachi. It becomes even more of a shared experience, right? Like, even more than the hundreds of pages of Rafie and Rey’s story, we get to listen to these songs that inspire them and me and many young mariachis out there today, and I really have no words for how cool that is.

Do you have any go-to listening recommendations for readers wanting to explore Mariachi after (or even during) reading Canto Contigo?

Vicente Fernández, I think, is a good starting point. Songs like “Volver, Volver” and “El Rey” and “Hermoso Cariño” are classics. Some of Selena’s songs, like “Tú, Solo Tú” and “Que Creías” are very much mariachi, and you know I’ve got to come with at least one Selena recommendation. And Ángela Aguilar’s “Cielito Lindo.”

Finally, do you currently have any projects in the works and if so, do you have anything you can share with us?

I do! I will hopefully be able to talk in more detail about it soon, but my next young adult novel is very much in the works right now. For some vibe crumbs, for those who’ve been around, y’all have met this character before, and we now get to follow him as the main character (but don’t worry, it is absolutely a standalone, so no required reading beforehand) and as a college freshman and soccer goalkeeper with dreams of going pro, and as he realizes that he might not be as straight as he thought he was.

Get your copy of Canto Contigo by Jonny Garza Villa here.

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