Joy Interviews Samantha Mabry, author of TIGERS NOT DAUGHTERS

I’ve been a huge fan of author Samantha Mabry since her first novel, A FIERCE AND SUBTLE POISON, which is a reimagining of Hawthorne’s Rappaccini’s Daughter. Her writing is fierce and original, sitting on the cusp of both commercial and literary and always playing with some aspect of ‘other.’ She’s a Texas-based writer as well, so I’ve been privileged to do events with her including a workshop at Austin’s wonderful Writing Barn, and Samantha is always fascinating, always digging deep. What a thrill then, to have Algonquin send me a very early read of her newest YA/adult crossover, TIGERS NOT DAUGHTERS, and what an equal thrill to get to interview her about it! Here’s what we talked about.

Joy Preble: Well, the first question that comes to mind is the title, TIGERS NOT DAUGHTERS, which, if I’m not mistaken, is part of a line from Shakespeare’s King Lear. Without giving away any major plot points, can you talk about that? Was this always the title? Did it come about as you were writing? Curious minds want to know!

Samantha Mabry: One summer I was at Shakespeare in the Park here in Dallas, watching King Lear. Towards the end of the play, one of the characters hurls out this insult, about how Regan and Goneril are “tigers, not daughters,” and I just loved that line. But I loved it because I was thinking about how being a “tiger” rather than a “daughter” may not be an insult at all. Like, why is it better to be a lovely, obedient daughter, as opposed to a vicious tiger? So that line really kick-started this story and my desire to build a world in which being tiger-like, rather than a daughter-like, was a source of pride. 

JP: And your characters here are certainly more tiger than daughter! Which I love. One of the other things I love about your books is that there is always something ‘other.’ Magic realism. Hauntings. Curses and legends. Uncanny events of all sorts. As I wrote when I reviewed TIGERS, you so cleverly straddle that line here between sister story and literary ghost story. What draws you to these elements and this type of storytelling, both in this book specifically as well as in your others?

SM: I remember reading Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits when I was in my early twenties, and I was sort of hit with the realization that I could do something like that. I mean, that book is more brilliant than I could ever hope to write, but I understood the melding of “real” and “unreal” that occurs throughout the novel. I think my ability to connect to that kind of storytelling has to do with my mother’s side of the family, who are Mexican-American and staunch Catholics and who essentially believe in everyday magic (though they might not refer to it as “magic”). 

JP: What a perfect explanation. Everyday ‘magic.’ Exactly. Beyond that component, TIGERS NOT DAUGHTERS is sister story, but it’s also a father/daughter story. What draws you to write about families in the ways that you do?

SM: Yeah, I realized in the process of writing this novel that all my books have really fraught father/daughter relationships. I have never been at all rebellious, but when I was growing up, he did always make me follow a lot of rules and have a curfew and make good grades. When I think about creating tension between families, that tension between my dad and teenage-age me (I wanted to be independent, and he wanted to protect me and keep me “good”) is the thing that I remember most vividly and thus can write about and ramp up with the most emotional clarity. 

JP: Ah, I can relate to all of that. My dad definitely was protective in that way. This is also a story about grief and loss, both of which are experienced differently by the sisters and the father. Can you tell us about what you were exploring here, what universal questions you found yourself trying to answer?

SM: I’ve not experienced loss like the Torres sisters, and I don’t have any siblings! I’ve always been interested, however, in the ways in which different people –or different groups of people –experience a single event and form disparate stories about it. Like, what’s the real version? There can be many real versions! I also liked exploring the long-term effects of tragedy and really pulling out the ways in which the sisters were transformed by grief. Again, I’d never be able to write a story that was, like THE DEFINITIVE story about grief, so I offered several ways in which I thought grief could manifest. 

JP: Fascinating. I think that’s such a great point-- that grief manifests differently and that tragedy has these long-term, transformative effects. All placed in the framework of the particular setting and culture that you use here. Speaking of which-- San Antonio and Latinx culture play a strong role in TIGERS. Can you talk about that for us?

SM: Aside from the Lear sisters, the Torres sisters were also inspired by my mother and her sisters, who were raised in the border town of Mission, Texas. I wanted the Torres sisters to be from a neighborhood with multi-generational Mexican-American families so they could feel really linked (or maybe tethered or chained) to their city and neighborhood and house. Additionally, I know that in my mother’s family there was a lot pressure on her and her sisters to be “good daughters,” which often meant being obedient and selfless. That said, I realize that many young women, regardless of their cultural background, feel “crushed” by the expectations of their family and culture and religion. 

JP: Interesting! It’s such a fascinating and eye-opening topic to look at how family and culture, etc. impact women and our sense of self. And certainly for a YA  novel, that’s something so universal with teens-- that exploration of self, those first experiences that begin to form who we really are and who we are trying to become.  I’d definitely categorize your books as YA/adult crossover. But in general, what draws you to write YA?

SM: I so clearly remember what it was like when I was seventeen: every day felt a hundred years long and was full of excitement and pain. There were so many moments that felt do-or-die. Music was my entire life, and I wanted desperately to know what I would do with my life and who I would love forever. I enjoy creating those seventeen year-old do-or-die moments and trying to make them as real as I can. Ultimately, I hope that young people can feel seen in my stories.

JP: I can assure you that they very much do! What’s next for Samantha Mabry?

SM: I’m still thinking through what I want to do for my next novel, but I just turned in edits for a short story that’s going to be a part of an anthology of YA re-tellings of Shakespeare plays. I’m not sure I can share which play I’m adapting yet. I’ll let you guess. 

JP: Well, we will be on the lookout! 

To find out more about Samantha Mabry and TIGERS NOT DAUGHTERS go to her website:

TIGERS NOT DAUGHTERS, a Spring 2020 Kids Indie Next Title,  is available now! 

Tigers, Not Daughters Cover Image
ISBN: 9781616208967
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Algonquin Young Readers - March 24th, 2020

Article Type Terms: