Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s eleven stories are woven together into a tapestry revealing the common threads between the diverse lives of Indigenous Latina women in the American West.
With the most cursory consideration of the cover, you’re drawn in by a striking vector portrait (colorful, nearly symmetrical, detailed --- by Gustavo Rimada), strong and elegant typography, and an impressive endorsement by Sandra Cisneros. And I’ll admit that the cover on its own convinced me to pick up Sabrina & Corina, but what kept the book in my hands was the immediateness with which I cared about the characters.
Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s eleven stories are woven together into a tapestry revealing the common threads between the diverse lives of Indigenous Latina women in the American West. The stories take place in and around Denver, Colorado, whose mountainous setting of snow-capped peaks and green valleys that dip into arid deserts accurately reflect the ups and downs of the characters’ lives.
It’s common for Latin American literature to lean towards magic realism, but the voices in Sabrina & Corina tell their stories on a very human level. Without any surreal veneer, it's easy to become attached to the characters and their stories. Moreover, the stories feel familiar. Familiar in the ‘familial’ sense: they often revolve around families, so you will likely be reminded of your own family relationships; Familiar in the sense of being ‘common’: the stories are presented not as singular instances but as inheritances.
In the titular story “Sabrina & Corina,” Sabrina’s unexpected death initiates the process and what may seem like an endless cycle of mourning and planning that funerals require.
The narrator, Corina, recalls her disintegrating relationship with Sabrina before she was strangled and later develops an understanding that Sabrina’s death deserves more than mourning.
I thought of all the women my family had lost, the horrible things they’d witnessed, the acts they simply endured. Sabrina had become another face in a line of tragedies that stretched back generations. … The stories always ended the same, only different girls died, and I didn’t want to hear them anymore.
You can see the turning cogs of the narrators’ thoughts as they work through the personal and familial problems presented to them, and though such issues could be overwhelming, the women are not despairing nor helpless. The main characters are paired with others who help them overcome their weaknesses. Sisters, nieces, mothers, and grandmothers all have flaws that aid in revealing and untangling the narrator’s flaws.
Sabrina and Corina presents plenty of heavy topics, but the author doesn’t saturate each story with drama. They are realistic and universal human experiences that are sweetened with humor, misunderstanding, and awkwardness. I giggled over two middles schoolers caring for a sack of sugar, a teenage girl accompanying her sister on awkward double dates, and pressing slices of potatoes to the forehead to remedy headaches (though maybe I shouldn’t knock it before I try it).
Despite revealing their worst mistakes, the narrators quickly befriend you, and their courage continues past the final pages of their stories.
Vivid voices and poetic descriptions snared me into stories about murder, about loss of innocence, about loneliness, about fear. And somehow the end of every story elicited even the smallest smile, so by the end of the book, I have forgiven Kali Fajardo-Anstine eleven times for the painful yet promising lives I have lived through Sabrina and Corina.