cover image Malas


Marcela Fuentes. Viking, $29 (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-65578-8

Fuentes debuts with the astonishing story of two malas, or women who challenge traditional Mexican gender norms. The year is 1951 and Pilar Aguirre, who is eight months pregnant with her second child, has recently joined her husband, Jose Alfredo, in the Texas border town of Barrio Caimanes, where he works as a cowboy. While Pilar is visiting her friend Romi Muñoz, a mysterious older woman shows up and claims to be Jose’s first wife. Soon afterward, Pilar goes into labor and has a stillbirth, which she attributes to a curse put on her by the older woman. A parallel narrative set in 1994 La Cienega, Tex., follows Lucha “Lulu” Muñoz, Romi’s angsty teen granddaughter, who plays in a punk band called Pink Vomit without her father Julio’s knowledge. For his part, Julio worries Lulu will become a mala (“For a Mexican man, a mala is the worst”). After Romi dies in her sleep, Lulu meets Pilar at her grandmother’s funeral. Later, the two become friends and bond over Tejano music, leading to the revelation of family secrets. Fuentes is a seamless storyteller: the narrative is rich in Mexican culture and fully realized characterizations, especially the defiant Lulu and the overbearing Julio. Fans of Ana Castillo and Erika Sanchez will be thrilled. Agent: Michelle Brower, Trellis Literary Management. (June)