Ana Castillo’s epistolary novella contains a series of loosely connected, fictionalized letters to Alicia from protagonist Teresa. At the beginning of the text, Castillo includes a table of contents that instructs the reader to choose one of several orders in which to read the letters based on his or her preference, whether the reader is a conformist, a cynic, or quixotic. Because each letter is self-contained, Castillo also suggests reading them haphazardly.
In Letter One, Teresa writes to Alicia to discuss the plan for who will drive the two girlfriends from Los Angeles to Mexico. Teresa suggests several relatives, including her Tia Filomena, Tio Cino, and cousin Ignacio. Teresa also wanders, reflecting on her family’s obsession with marriages, especially her failed one that has left her a divorcee at thirty years old.
Letter Two is a free verse poem to Alicia on her thirtieth birthday, which reflects on how the two women won’t have to tolerate less-than-stellar men any more.
Letter Three is a longer piece about the summer when Alicia and Teresa first met as exchange students at an arts college in Mexico City. The two women struck up an intense friendship despite their differences in personality and circumstance. Teresa describes how the relationship became tumultuous because of the passionate love they shared, based on a desire to see the other become the best version of herself.
The next letter is a brief note explaining why Teresa stopped attending church after a priest probed her to confess sexual sins she had not yet committed at the age of eighteen.
In Letter Five, Teresa remembers the time Alicia told her about Alicia’s gypsy grandmother—and how Alicia’s family rejected the gypsies in their lineage in favor of American ideals.
Letter Six is about the end of Alicia’s love affair with Adan, an Indian hotel manager in Acapulco who hid his wife and children from her when she remained in Mexico after the summer she and Teresa met.
Letter Seven discusses Alicia’s letter that she received from Adan many years later, while dating an unreliable addict named Rodney in New York. The theme of the letter is how women are expected to revolve their lives around their husbands, relinquishing their female friendships.
Letter Eight continues the theme from the previous one, recalling Teresa’s last few days with Alicia in New York before Teresa reunites with her estranged husband in California. In the next letter, Teresa explains how a series of failed business ventures and disrespect from her husband, Libra, spurred her to leave him for good.
Letter Ten is a free flowing poetic piece about the summer of 1976 in San Francisco when Teresa, Alicia, and another childhood friend were caught up in the social movements of the time.
Letters Eleven and Twelve deal explicitly with sexuality. In the latter, Teresa recalls the night Alicia discovered her lifelong lover, Rodney, with another woman after returning to their apartment in New York at the end of the San Francisco summer. This letter also introduces the theme of race, since Rodney is black and Alicia is white.
Letter Thirteen dives into a meditation on race, beginning with Teresa’s admission that she hated white women because society prizes them. Her experiences led her to initially loathe Alicia, until she realized that many of her assumptions were wrong.
Letter Fifteen picks up where the previous one left off, with Teresa describing all the ways Alicia is physically beautiful, despite her self-consciousness.
Letter Sixteen underscores Teresa’s identity as a free spirit, and the moment when she and Alicia first began conspiring to return to Mexico.
Letters Seventeen and Eighteen present two encounters that Teresa and Alicia has in Mexico with men. Men always seem to be interested in Teresa, though she always rejects them. In contrast, Alicia is so desperate for male attention that she is indiscriminate in seeking it from anyone. Teresa feels guilty about this discrepancy between them.
Letter Nineteen discusses the proposal from Sergio Sarmosa, a rich entrepreneur whom Teresa considers marrying out of desire for security. She hints that his attention toward her was less than genuine, though she doesn’t provide details.
Letters Twenty and Twenty-One describes the dangers the two friends faced during their travels in Mexico after a military coup d’etat changes the environment seemingly overnight.
In Letters Twenty-Two through Twenty-Four, Teresa addresses Alicia’s near-assault in Babylonia in between two anecdotes in which the travelers encountered an evil spirit in the haunted house of two polite yet forward engineers. The next letter details another dilemma the pair encountered as they left Babylonia for Mexico City, after they agreed to take a free ride from two lecherous older businessmen. When they return to Mexico City unscathed thanks to crafty lies, Teresa receives a telegram from Sergio breaking off their relationship—an even that is discussed in Letter Twenty-Six.
Letter Twenty-Seven is about Teresa’s metaphorical dream of Mexico and its good and bad aspects.
Letters Twenty-Eight and Twenty-Nine are about Teresa’s intensely passionate affair with Alexis Vallidolid, a virtuoso flamenco guitarist and Alicia’s Spanish cousin, who moved back with Teresa to Chicago for a time.
Letter Thirty briefly discusses Alicia’s return to art school, and her vows of celibacy that she soon breaks after finding a new roommate when El Gallo returned home.
Letter Thirty-One describes the heart-rending pain Teresa felt after ending a pregnancy at three months. Alexis had asked her to have an abortion, which triggers the brutal end of their relationship. The following letter is Teresa’s reflection on how she allowed a man to demean and control her. Letter Thirty-Three continues this reflective mood, as Teresa writes a poem from Alexis’ perspective after she bumps into him at a nightclub many years after their breakup.
In the next letter, Teresa provides commentary on Alicia’s first solo art showing, revealing how distant their friendship has become over the years.
Letters Thirty-Four and Thirty-Five deal with the subject of children and family. While Teresa now plans on raising her son in Mexico, Alicia is childless because the abortion she underwent at age seventeen also included sterilization—which Alicia did not fully understand or consent to at the time.
Letters Thirty-Six through Thirty-Eight further explore the breakdown of Teresa and Alicia’s friendship, which the former attributes to the suffocating influence that Abdel held over Alicia’s mood.
In the penultimate letter, Teresa explains how her estranged husband became the father of her son Vittorio—and how Alicia stepped up to be his godmother.
The final letter of the book recalls the ordinary day on which Alicia returns to her apartment in New York to discover Abdel had shot himself in their kitchen.
The letters are in non-chronological order and provide a collage of a lifelong friendship that has provided each woman with so much that helped her discover herself.