NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • Latinas of Indigenous descent living in the American West take center stage in this haunting debut story collection—a powerful meditation on friendship, mothers and daughters, and the deep-rooted truths of our homelands.
“Here are stories that blaze like wildfires, with characters who made me laugh and broke my heart.”—Sandra Cisneros
FINALIST FOR THE STORY PRIZE • FINALIST FOR THE PEN/ROBERT W. BINGHAM PRIZE FOR DEBUT SHORT STORY COLLECTION
Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s magnetic story collection breathes life into her Latina characters of indigenous ancestry and the land they inhabit in the American West. Against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado—a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite—these women navigate the land the way they navigate their lives: with caution, grace, and quiet force.
In “Sugar Babies,” ancestry and heritage are hidden inside the earth but tend to rise during land disputes. “Any Further West” follows a sex worker and her daughter as they leave their ancestral home in southern Colorado only to find a foreign and hostile land in California. In “Tomi,” a woman leaves prison and finds herself in a gentrified city that is a shadow of the one she remembers from her childhood. And in the title story, “Sabrina & Corina,” a Denver family falls into a cycle of violence against women, coming together only through ritual.
Sabrina & Corina is a moving narrative of unrelenting feminine power and an exploration of the universal experiences of abandonment, heritage, and an eternal sense of home.
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Public Library • Kirkus Reviews • Library Journal
“Sabrina & Corina isn’t just good, it’s masterful storytelling. Fajardo-Anstine is a fearless writer: her women are strong and scarred witnesses of the violations of their homelands, their culture, their bodies; her plots turn and surprise, unerring and organic in their comprehensiveness; her characters break your heart, but you keep on going because you know you are in the hands of a master. Her stories move through the heart of darkness and illuminate it with the soul of truth.”—Julia Alvarez, author of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents
“[A] powerhouse debut . . . stylistically superb, with crisp dialogue and unforgettable characters, Sabrina & Corina introduces an impressive new talent to American letters.”—Rigoberto González, NBC News
About the Author
Kali Fajardo-Anstine is from Denver, Colorado. Her fiction has appeared in The American Scholar, Boston Review, Bellevue Literary Review, The Idaho Review, Southwestern American Literature, and elsewhere. Fajardo-Anstine has received fellowships from MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and Hedgebrook. She received her MFA from the University of Wyoming and has lived across the country from Durango, Colorado, to Key West, Florida.
Read an Excerpt
Though the southern Colorado soil was normally hard and cakey, it had snowed and then rained an unusual amount that spring. Some of the boys in my eighth-grade class decided it was the perfect ground for playing army. They borrowed shovels and picks from their fathers’ sheds, placing the tools on their bicycle handlebars and riding out to the western edge of our town, Saguarita, a place where the land with its silken fibers of swaying grass resembled a sleeping woman with her face pressed firmly to the pillow, a golden blonde by day, a raven-haired beauty by night.
The first boy to hit bone was Robbie Martinez. He did so with the blunt edge of a rusted shovel. Out of the recently drenched earth, he lifted a piece of brittle faded whiteness and tossed it downwind like nothing more than a scrap of paper. “Look,” he said, kneeling as if he was praying. “Everybody come look.”
The other boys gathered around. There in the ground lay broken pieces of bowls with black zigzagging designs. Next to those broken bowls were human teeth, scattered like dried kernels of yellow corn. Above them the sun had begun to fade behind the tallest peak of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The sky was pale and bleak, like the bloated belly of a lizard passing above.
“Don’t touch it,” Robbie said. “None of it. We need to tell somebody.”
And tell they did. The entire town. Everyone, it seemed, was a witness.
Days after their discovery, our final eighth-grade project was announced. We gathered in the gym for an assembly. The teachers brought together the boys from technical education class and the girls from home economics. We sat Indian style in ten rows beneath dangling ropes and resting basketball hoops. The room smelled like a tennis ball dipped in old socks and the cement walls were padded in purple vinyl—supposedly to minimize dodgeball injuries. I thought it looked like a loony bin.
Mrs. Sharply, a bug-eyed woman with a neck like a giraffe’s but a torso like a rhino’s, stood before us on a wooden box. “For the remaining two weeks of your junior high career,” she said, “you will care for another life.” She then reached behind her into a paper grocery bag, revealing a sack of C & H pure cane sugar. “Sugar babies. We will be raising our very own sugar babies.”
Older kids had gossiped about notorious school projects. We had heard stories of piglet dissections, the infamous “growing and changing” unit, rocket launches with carbon dioxide canisters, and a cow’s lung blackened and doused in cigarette smoke, but no one had warned us about this.
“Sugar babies are a lot of responsibility,” Mrs. Sharply said as she stepped down from her box and paced with the sugar sack. She explained we were to be graded on skills like feeding, bonding, budgeting, and more. She then passed around diaper directions.
“We do it all alone?” It was Solana Segura. She was behind me, her perpetual whimper causing every sentence to end like a little howl. “Like single moms and stuff?”
Somewhere, down the rows, a boy croaked, “But the DNA shows I am not the father.”
We chirped with laughter until Mrs. Sharply held up two fingers, signaling silence. “Of course not. You’ll be in committed partnerships. We’re drawing names.”
A teacher’s aide in Payless flats scurried like a magician’s assistant toward Mrs. Sharply. She carried two Folgers cans decorated in pink and blue glitter. Mrs. Sharply set down her sugar, taking the cans from the aide and giving each a good shake. From the pink can, the first name she pulled was Mimi Yazzie, who stood and slinked forward, burying her face into her arms as Mrs. Sharply called out her partner, Mike Ramos. This cycle of humiliation lasted for several more rounds before I was partnered with Roberto Martinez, the bone boy.
After school, Robbie and I sat outside on the swings. He was a scrawny kid with frequently chapped lips and a light dusting of freckles across his low nose. He played soccer and always wore a beat-up blue windbreaker and knockoff Adidas sneakers, with four stripes instead of three. The sugar baby was planted snug in his lap, balanced ever so gently between his two stick-arms. His dark eyes were so big and wide they resembled two brown pigeon eggs and he spoke with a quavering, squeaky voice. “They said we have to name it. Do you want to pick it out, Sierra?”
“No, you name it.” I swung up. “And you take it home tonight.” I swung down. “I’ll watch it tomorrow, but only if I have to.”
“That’s cool,” he said. “What about Miranda? That’s my grandma’s name.”
“Whatever,” I sighed, leaning back on the swing. “Name it after your grandmother. Name it after your entire family. I don’t care.” I pumped until the rusted chain pulled taut. Then I jumped, landing in the mushy gravel with both feet. I took off for home.
Reading Group Guide
1. Did this book teach you something new about the American West? If so, what?
2. Many of the protagonists in Sabrina & Corina are presented with a type of twinning character. Which characters seemed to complement each other for better or worse?
3. What is the importance of storytelling in Sabrina & Corina. In what ways do the characters tell one another stories, and for what reasons?
4. Fajardo-Anstine presents her female characters as pillars of strength and women with flaws. Why do you think the author did this?
5. What did Sabrina & Corina teach you about the Latinx and indigenous experiences in the United States?
6. Many of the characters in Sabrina & Corina are ethnically mixed. How does the author highlight these hybrid identities?
7. A sense of home and one of place and are very important in Sabrina & Corina. How do the different characters in these stories define home, as well as their place in society and among their families? And how do you as a reader define the concept of home?
8. Why do you think Fajardo-Anstine explored violence against women in this community?
9. Fajardo-Anstine has said that she wrote Sabrina & Corina out of a need to understand why beauty and death were linked so closely in her culture. How do you see those elements in these stories?
10. Many of the stories in Sabrina & Corina are set in the fictional town of Saguarita. What other memorable fictional towns have you encountered in literature?
11. What does Sierra’s sugar "baby" represent to you?
12. What do you think happened to Lucia Barrera in Sisters?
13. How has gentrification impacted characters in stories like Galapago and Tomi?
14. In Any Further West, do you think Neva will break the cycle of violence in her family?
15. Education plays an important role in Ghost Sickness. How does that story challenge dominant narratives about the American west?