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SABRINA & CORINA

Fajardo-Anstine takes aim at our country's social injustices and ills without succumbing to pessimism. The result is a...

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
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  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019


  • National Book Award Finalist

Eleven achingly realistic stories set in Denver and southern Colorado bear witness to the lives of Latina women of Indigenous descent trying to survive generations of poverty, racism, addiction, and violence.

"Ever feel like the land is swallowing you whole, Sierra?" the narrator's mother, Josie, asks her in "Sugar Babies," the first story of Fajardo-Anstine's debut collection. "That all this beauty is wrapped around you so tight it's like being in a rattlesnake's mouth?" Here, it's becoming a mother at 16 that threatens to swallow Josie, prompting her to abandon 10-year-old Sierra. In "Sabrina & Corina," which follows two cousins, women's lack of opportunities and their dependence on men undo Sabrina, a blue-eyed, dark-haired beauty. While Corina, the plainer of the two, goes to beauty school, Sabrina spirals into substance abuse and sleeps around. She's murdered at the story's start, and Corina has the horrible task of going to the mortuary to do her cousin's makeup, literally covering up the violence she suffered. In "Julian Plaza," gaping holes in our social safety net ensnare the characters. When Nayeli gets breast cancer, her family has no good choices: Her husband's health insurance won't cover effective treatments, and he can't care for her for fear of being canned. Fajardo-Anstine writes with a keen understanding of the power of love even when it's shot through with imperfections. Nayeli's young daughters try to carry their mother home from the neighbor's where she has been sent to die. And Sierra from the title story still fantasizes about her mother returning at some point, "joyously waving to me, her last stop."

Fajardo-Anstine takes aim at our country's social injustices and ills without succumbing to pessimism. The result is a nearly perfect collection of stories that is emotionally wrenching but never without glimmers of resistance and hope.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-51129-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

Categories:

THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

Categories:

SIGHTSEEING

STORIES

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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