Chicana writer Castillo (whose reputation until now has been mostly regional) brings a warm, sometimes biting but not bitter feminist consciousness to the wondrous, tragic, and engaging lives of a New Mexico mother and her four fated daughters. Poor Sofi! Abandoned by her gambler husband to raise four unusual girls who tend to rise from adversity only to find disaster. ``La Loca,'' dead at age three, comes back to life--but is unable to bear the smell of human beings; Esperanza succeeds as a TV anchorwoman--but is less successful with her exploitative lover and disappears during the Gulf War; promiscuous, barhopping Caridad--mutilated and left for dead--makes a miraculous recovery, but her life on earth will still be cut short by passion; and the seemingly self-controlled Fe is so efficient that ``even when she lost her mind [upon being jilted]...she did it without a second's hesitation.'' Sofi's life-solution is to found an organization M.O.M.A.S. (Mothers of Martyrs and Saints), while Castillo tries to solve the question of minority-writer aesthetics: Should a work of literature provide a mirror for marginalized identity? Should it celebrate and preserve threatened culture? Should it be politically progressive? Should the writer aim for art, social improvement, or simple entertainment? Castillo tries to do it all--and for the most part succeeds. Storytelling skills and humor allow Castillo to integrate essaylike folklore sections (herbal curing, saint carving, cooking)--while political material (community organizing, toxic chemicals, feminism, the Gulf War) is delivered with unabashed directness and usually disarming charm.