In 2017, Samantha Mabry established herself as one of the most crucial voices in young adult literature when her second novel, All the Wind in the World, was longlisted for a National Book Award. That story, set on a cursed ranch in the Southwest, was a stunning tale about young love, impossible dreams, and redeeming magic. If you love that book, you're in luck: Samantha Mabry's new novel Tigers, Not Daughters, is coming out next year, and Bustle has an exclusive first look at the cover and first chapter below.
At the beating heart of Tigers, Not Daughters are three San Antonio sisters who are haunted by the memory of their older sister — figuratively and literally. Yes, she is dead; but no, they have stopped seeing her. Here's what you can expect:
"The Torres sisters dream of escape — escape from their needy and despotic widowed father, from their San Antonio neighborhood, and from the old San Antonio families and all the traditions and expectations that go along with them. In the summer after her senior year of high school, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window, and a year later, her three younger sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, are still consumed by grief and haunted by her memory. Their dream of leaving Southtown now seems out of reach. But then strange things start happening around the house: mysterious laughter, mysterious shadows, mysterious writing on the walls. The sisters begin to wonder if Ana really is haunting them, trying to send them a message — and what exactly she’s trying to say."
Tigers, Not Daughters is out on March 24, 2020 — but you can start reading now:
The Night the Torres Sisters Tried to Run Away from Southtown
The window to Ana Torres’ second-story bedroom faced Hector’s house, and every night she’d undress with the curtains wide open, in full view of the street. We’d witnessed this scene dozens — hundreds —of times, but still, each night Ana had us perched there, pained and floating on the edge of something tremendous.
With her back to us, Ana would strip off her shirt and her bra — that bra made of white cotton, the fabric so thin we could see the shimmer of her sandstone skin through it — and toss them onto the floor at the foot of her never-made bed. She’d lift up her arms, stretch her spine like a cat, and roll her head side to side to ease out the kinks in her neck. She’d run her fingers through her long, ink-black hair before gracefully winding it up into a knot. Then she’d turn — so slowly it made our eyes gloss with tears. She’d sigh and gaze through her window — never straight at our faces, which were always twisted tightly with hope — but always past us, over the top of the crooked oak tree in her front yard, over the top of Hector’s two-story house, over the tops of tilted palms several streets away, to some far-away place. She’d have this wistful expression on her face, like she was waiting for something, or someone, to come down from the night sky and take her away.
We would do whatever it took and would suffer any number of indignities to be with her, this girl of our young, fresh dreams..."
We were barely fifteen, and Ana was nearly eighteen, but we were convinced that we could be her heroes. We could be the ones to rescue her and take her wherever she wanted to go. Up and over into New Mexico? No problem. Down into Matamoros? Just say when. Peter knew the basics when it came to driving a car, and Luis had close to fifty bucks stashed away in a drawer. We would do whatever it took and would suffer any number of indignities to be with her, this girl of our young, fresh dreams, to save her from our old neighborhood, with its old San Antonio families and its traditions so strong and deep we could practically feel them tugging at our heels when we walked across our yards. We wouldn’t have cared if Ana made fun of our gangly bodies, our terrible, squeaky voices, the way no deodorant could come close to covering up our puberty-stink, or the very, very dumb things we inevitably would say.
Just tell us where you want to go, Ana. And we’ll take you there. We never got the chance.
Just over a year ago, on an unusually warm spring night during Fiesta, Ana Torres opened her second-story window and stuck out her head. She was checking to make sure the street was clear before she latched on to the sturdy branches of the old oak tree. She shimmied down the wide trunk, and once the soles of her flip-flops landed on the patchy grass, she dusted off the bits of bark from her palms and turned her gaze up.
There, at Ana’s window, was her sixteen-year-old sister, Jessica. Jessica tossed down a pink backpack, then a blue one, then two matching tweed suitcases like the kind traveling salesmen used to carry back when there were such people as traveling salesmen. Ana caught each of them, one after the other, her knees buckling only slightly under the weight. She set them in a row near the base of the tree and looked up again, to watch Jessica hitch her left leg awkwardly through the window and then reach for the nearest branch with unsure hands.
Even from across the street at Hector’s house, we could see Jessica’s lips pulled back and her teeth clamped together in cold determination. She was gripping too hard — first to the window frame, then to the branches. It was obvious she’d never done anything like this before. Her fingers were popping the leaves loose, and the soles of her high- tops were chipping off bits of bark. Both the leaves and the bark were fluttering to the ground, right to where Ana was bouncing on the balls of her feet. We could tell Ana wanted to call out to her sister. She couldn’t say anything, though — couldn’t risk it — because the base of the tree, right by the row of luggage, was directly in front of their dad’s bedroom window.
By now, fifteen-year-old Iridian — the girls, we realized, were making their escape in birth order—was leaning halfway out the window, scowling at Jessica’s slow and clumsy progress. She kept glancing nervously over her shoulder, then down to the top of her sister’s head. Her fingers drummed against the window frame. Finally, she couldn’t wait anymore. She pulled her hair back into a quick bun and climbed out. Her movements — like Ana’s — were solid and sure. She knew exactly where to grip, how to shift her balance, when to inhale, when to exhale. Soon though, Iridian was forced to pause and dangle, waiting for Jessica. She glanced to the window above, where the youngest of the Torres sisters, Rosa, who was twelve, was starting to emerge.
Finally, Jessica hit the ground — hard and flat-footed. Her arms pinwheeled round and round like a cartoon character’s until she caught her balance. Seconds later, Iridian swung off a high branch and landed in a crouch in the grass. She pulled her hair out from her bun, and the strands spilled across her shoulders.
Now that the three of them — Ana, Jessica, and Iridian — were all on solid ground, they looked up in unison. Rosa was wearing a calf-length dress because Rosa always wore a calf-length dress. Tonight, though, in honor of Fiesta, the front of that dress was covered in medals — like awards, like pins in the style of a Purple Heart, except most of hers were made of plastic with bright, multicolored ribbons attached to them. As Rosa was suspended with just the tip of one bulky shoe braced against the window frame, the fabric of her dress caught in a breeze, and we wouldn’t have been surprised if, instead of climbing down to join her sisters, Rosa climbed up into the tallest, most tender branches of the tree to search for birds’ nests or pluck off the prettiest leaf or just be closer to the stars in the night sky. We’d always thought that if Rosa were an element, she’d be air, the lazy kind that gets tossed around a room when a ceiling fan is on its lowest setting.
Rosa did decide to climb down instead of up, but just as she was just about to take the final, short leap to the ground, her dress got caught on something — maybe the sharp nub of a snapped-off limb — and her skirt was hoisted up to her ribs, exposing not just her pale underwear but the bottom edge of her bra. Our breaths caught — all at the same time. We saw Ana reach over and grip Jessica’s wrist. Iridian took a step forward, then stopped, then put her hand over her mouth. Rosa shifted her weight, released one hand from the tree branch. and pulled — once, twice — before the fabric gave way. Then, finally, she leapt.
From there, the girls didn’t hesitate. They each grabbed a piece of luggage and were gone, down Devine Street and then north and away from Southtown.
For a moment, we just stood there, shoulder to shoulder at Hector’s bedroom window, our skin buzzing with the kind of feeling a person gets before jumping off a high cliff into water: bravery mixed with low-level terror. Eventually, we looked at one another. We knew that this was our moment. We crept out of Hector’s room and tiptoed down the stairs. One by one, we pushed through the Garcias’ squeaky storm door and stepped out into the night.
If the Torres sisters were headed north and carrying luggage, we figured their destination was the Greyhound station on St. Mary’s and Martin, even though it was over a mile away and on the other side of downtown. Sure enough, when we got to the end of Devine, we saw the sisters hustling in that direction. We didn’t know for sure where they’d catch a bus to, but if we had to guess, we would’ve said the girls were heading south, to the Rio Grande Valley, where their Aunt Francine lived in a big house in the middle of the orange groves.
Ana led the way. Behind her was Iridian. Then Rosa. Bringing up the rear was Jessica. Her suitcase was so heavy it banged against the side of her leg with every step, and she had to keep switching it from her right hand to her left and back.
The girls chose to run away during Fiesta probably because they thought they could disappear in the huge, ambling crowd...
All warm, star-flecked spring nights in downtown San Antonio bring out the tourists, but this night was different than the other warm, star-flecked nights. The girls were making their getaway on one of the busiest nights of the year, during Fiesta, when the streets were packed, even in the middle of the night — and not just packed with tourists, but with locals draped in medal-covered sashes and wearing crowns made from paper flowers. They were out in droves to celebrate the Texians who fought long ago in the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto. And even when we were still a couple of blocks away from downtown proper, we could hear the music — the blare of horns, the percussive thumps of guitars. Little bits of colored crepe paper floated through air and covered the sidewalks and the streets.
The girls chose to run away during Fiesta probably because they thought they could disappear in the huge, ambling crowd and no one would notice them, and maybe that was a good plan. We, however, could do nothing but notice them. None of the Torres sisters was particularly tall — Iridian was the tallest, but still not tall. Their heads didn’t bob above the crowd, but we could still see it shift and part as the girls pushed through. We followed, shouldering and ducking our way through people who smelled like beer and cinnamon and drugstore cologne. We thought we could stay hidden and that we could go unnoticed, but once the sisters had finally plowed through the crowd’s northernmost edge and were picking up their pace, Jessica, who was still bringing up the rear, glanced over her shoulder and saw us.
She stopped. Her eyes narrowed. We froze. She advanced.
“Shit,” Jimmy squeaked. Even with a little square of pink crepe paper stuck just above her right eyebrow, Jessica Torres was still scary as hell. It seemed like she was always, always angry. In kindergarten, she bit a teacher on the wrist because snack time was over and he tried to take away her peanut butter crackers. In junior high, she keyed Jenny Sanchez’s mom’s car because she didn’t like the color of it, and just this last December, she got detention for three days after she’d jammed the tip of a lead pencil into Muriel Contreras’s pinky finger. The lead is still in there. Muriel tries to say it’s a freckle, but everyone knows the truth.
For a moment, there on the far edge of the Fiesta celebration, none of us spoke. Jessica stared us down. Her teeth were clamped together, bared slightly, just like they were when she was climbing down that tree. The other Torres sisters—realizing Jessica was no longer with them—halted and spun around.
It was Hector who finally mustered up some courage. He cleared his throat and asked, “Where are you going?”
“We can help,” Calvin quickly chimed in. Ana took a step forward. She shrugged off her heavy backpack and slid herself in front of Jessica. She looked us over, met each of us in the eye for the briefest moment, but said nothing. A breeze caught her hair, lifting the strands, blowing them in our direction.
We’d never been this close to Ana Torres before, and it was disorienting. She was so, so beautiful. We’d imagined before — many times — what she might’ve smelled like. Maybe it was roses, vanilla, lemons, or maybe the first, fresh slice of white bread pulled from the plastic sleeve. But until then, we never truly knew.
It was laundry. She smelled like laundry, like dryer sheets mixed with a little stubborn sweat.
“We can help,” Calvin repeated. “Boys.” Ana’s tone was full of scorn, and it burned our soft hearts. “Go home. We don’t need your help.”
Ana was suddenly lit up from the side. All four of the girls turned, and in that moment we knew from the loud rattle of the overstressed engine coming our way that Rafe Torres had discovered his daughters’ escape and had tracked them down in his truck. Hector cried out, “Run!” But the girls didn’t run.
They just waited and watched as their dad honked his horn twice and brought his old green Ford pickup to a stop in the middle of the street. Jessica’s heavy suitcase fell to the ground with a thud. Rafe, dressed in a white V-neck undershirt and jeans, jumped from the truck while the engine was still running and went straight for Ana. He gripped her arm, digging his thumb right into her shoulder joint. “What were you thinking?” he barked. “Huh?”
Ana said nothing. She didn’t even wince. She just slowly turned her head to the side, and her gaze slid northward, in the direction of the bus station.
The passenger door of Rafe’s truck opened, and out came Hector’s mom, wearing fuzzy slippers and a red flannel robe over a long nightgown. She was watching Rafe and Ana with a strange expression on her face. It was a mix of things: like she was relieved, like she was furious, like she was guilty, like she felt sorry for the Torres girls, like she knew, deep down, that it may have been better for them to have caught a bus to the Valley or wherever else they’d hoped to go than to stay with their sad dad in Southtown.
Hector’s mom then turned toward us. She ticked up her chin and pointed down the street.
This is how we learned that we were the ones who had destroyed the Torres girls’ chance at escape.
“Walk,” she commanded. We walked. The last thing we saw before we were again swallowed by the noisy, sweaty Fiesta crowd was Jessica arguing with her father, refusing to get in the truck. If anyone else had noticed what was happening between the Torres girls and Rafe, they didn’t let on; everyone knew families were complicated and that dads were always dealing with unruly teenage daughters. Rafe gripped Jessica’s arm, then her waist, and then pushed her into the extended cab. She managed to pin us with one more stare, full of hot fury. We deserved it.
We learned on the walk back what had happened. Hector’s mom had heard us leave. It took her a minute to figure out what was happening and then to get up and wrestle on her robe. Once she got out into the front yard, she saw Ana’s wide-open second-story window. She went across to the Torres house and rang the doorbell until Rafe answered, still half asleep. Together, in Rafe’s truck, they drove around the neighborhood, searching for their runaways. At the time, Rafe didn’t seem all that mad, Hector’s mom told us. Instead, he seemed scared. His fingers were trembling against the steering wheel. He kept repeating, “My girls. My girls.” He kept asking Hector’s mom, “What will I do if they leave me?”
This is how we learned that we were the ones who had destroyed the Torres girls’ chance at escape. If it weren’t for us, things would’ve turned out differently. If it weren’t for us, Ana wouldn’t have died two months later and her sisters wouldn’t have been forced to suffer at the hands of her angry ghost.
You can now pre-order Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, out March 24, 2020.