Surviving Santiago by Lyn Miller-Lachmann



To sixteen-year-old Tina Aguilar, love is the center of her world with its warmth and ability to make a place into a home. Thus, Tina is less than thrilled to return to her birthplace of Santiago, Chile, for the first time in eight years to visit her father, the man who betrayed her and her mother’s love through his political obsession and alcoholism. 

Tina is not surprised to find Papá physically disabled from his time as a political prisoner, but she is disappointed and confused by his constant avoidance of her company. So when Frankie, a mysterious, crush-worthy boy, shows interest in her, Tina does not hesitate to embrace his affection.

However, Frankie’s reason for being in Tina’s neighborhood is far from incidental or innocent, and the web of deception surrounding Tina begins to spin out of control. Tina’s heart is already in turmoil, but adding her and her family’s survival into the mix brings her to the edge of truth and discovery.

Romance and intrigue intertwine in
Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s coming-of-age story set amidst the tense anticipation at the end of the Pinochet regime in 1989. Fans of Gringolandia will recognize the Aguilar family as they continue their story of survival and redemption.

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Author Interview:

Please tell us a little bit about your current project?

Surviving Santiago grew out of my earlier YA novel Gringolandia. My editor wanted me to write a companion from the point of view of the main character’s younger sister, who was 12 and headed straight toward trouble in the earlier book. Three and a half years later, she’s better adjusted to life in exile in the United States, but having to visit her father, who has moved back to Chile to continue the struggle against the dictatorship, seems to bring out the worst in both of them. Still, Tina wants to know her father loves her, that he hasn’t rejected her for politics. And when he does reject her, she finds that love elsewhere.

Like many romances, this novel was inspired by Shakespeare’s classic Romeo & Juliet. The conflict between the Montagues and the Capulets was at its foundation a political conflict—a conflict over power at a time of social change. Tina arrives in Chile at a time of great change as well. General Augusto Pinochet ruled as a dictator for 16 years, but his regime is in the process of handing over power to a democratically elected government following his surprising loss in a plebiscite (a yes or no vote) a year earlier. Yet the country is still divided, and a few supporters of the dictatorship see this as their last opportunity to settle scores.

As an underground journalist turned popular talk show host, Tina’s father played a major role in ending the dictatorship. To many people, he is a hero, but others will not forget how his illegal newspaper revealed the names of torturers who were later assassinated. Tina and Frankie come from different families, with different political allegiances, but like Romeo and Juliet, they fall in love and their love puts themselves and everyone around them in danger.

Describe the “perfect” hero. What about the “perfect” hero for you?

Tina is the point of view character and the one who has to take action and make life-or-death decisions. Both she and Frankie are complex characters with strong desires and weaknesses they have to confront in order to bridge the chasm between them. I like heroes who are three-dimensional and who are often their own worst enemy. Yet, they’re willing to face the thing they fear most in order to achieve their goals and make an impact on the world around them.

What are some of your favorite pastimes? Do you have any hobbies or collections?

I build models and photograph scenes with LEGO. I have a huge LEGO town that includes all of the modular sets ever released along with some buildings I’ve designed and built myself. Among other things, I built a radio station like the one where Tina’s father works in Surviving Santiago and put together my own minifigures who look like the characters in the book.


What has been your biggest adventure to date?

It has to be going to Chile in 1990 to witness the transition from dictatorship to democracy myself, as a guest of a group of underground musicians whose concerts I helped to organize in the United States in the 1980s. I received a SCBWI Work-in-Progress grant for a contemporary novel to research the book that would become Gringolandia, but it took me another 19 years to rewrite the novel multiple times and find a publisher.

When it comes to food, are you the adventurous type who will try anything once, or do you prefer to stick to tried and true foods and recipes?

Both. I’ll try anything once, but I know what I like and what I’ll add to my menu. The only thing I don’t do is cook. Well, I do cook, but no one wants to eat what I cook.

What is your favorite comfort food?

Ice cream.

What is your favorite season? What do you love about it?

Spring. I like it when the days get longer and warmer. And my kids’ birthdays are in the spring. It helps that I don’t have allergies to trees in bloom.

What is the one modern convenience that you cannot do without?

My laptop computer.

What is this romance writer’s idea of the “ideal romantic evening”?

Trying a new restaurant and seeing an independent film, preferably one set in another country with subtitles, at one of the art-house cinemas in my neighborhood. I tell my husband that with a subtitled film, even if it’s not that good, we’re learning a new language.

What project are you working on next?

I’m writing another YA historical romance, this one set in Portugal in the mid-1960s. While working in a fado (Portuguese blues) restaurant after having to drop out of high school for financial reasons, my 16-year-old protagonist becomes obsessed with a song and follows its singer into a dangerous underground movement against the Fascist government and into an equally fraught romance with another rebel.

Any place we can find you in person or on the net this month or next?

I’m going to be at the NCTE/ALAN conference in Minneapolis, where I’m on three different panels—one for Rogue and two for Surviving Santiago.


Author bio:

Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s debut young adult novel Gringolandia (Curbstone Press/Northwestern University Press, 2009), about a teenage refugee from Chile coming to terms with his father’s imprisonment and torture under the Pinochet dictatorship, was a 2010 ALA Best Book for Young Adults and received an Américas Award Honorable Mention from the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs. Her second novel, Rogue (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013), a Junior Library Guild selection, portrays an eighth grader with undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome and an X-Men obsession, whose desire for a friend leads her to some difficult and dangerous choices. Her most recent novel is Surviving Santiago (Running Press), the companion to Gringolandia, which portrays younger sister Tina’s journey to Chile to visit her estranged father and her romance with a motorcycle-riding local boy whose secret threatens them all. Surviving Santiago recently received a Moonbeam Award Gold Medal for YA Historical/Cultural Fiction.

Lyn reviews children’s and young adult books on social justice themes for The Pirate Tree, Currently, she is writing a young adult novel set in Portugal, where she spends part of each year, and translating children’s books from Portuguese to English. Her first translation, the picture book The World in a Second (Enchanted Lion) received a starred review from Kirkus and was featured in the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and the Wall Street Journal.

Social media:


Twitter: @LMillerLachmann

Instagram: @lynmillerlachmann

Tags: YA literature, historical fiction, Chile, family relationships, LGBTQIA

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