Author: Sandra Cisneros
Type: Fiction, novel
I read it: September 2014
When we held a book exchange for my birthday last year I was pleased to end up with this one, contributed by my friend Monica. I wanted to make sure to read it while I still had recent memories of Minneapolis in mind. Especially summer living, when I could sit out on the balcony and feel all the other lives tight and close on a narrow street.
In The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros tells of a young girl turning into a woman in 1970s or 80s Chicago. Esperanza is not buying that the house of the title–the one her large family moves into–is the type of house they need. Instead of the glorious escape from apartment life that her parents hinted at, it’s crowded and imperfect. But the book is just as much about the second part of the title: all the characters who make up life on Mango Street.
Esperanza’s keen eye catches everyone around her, child and adult, able and infirm, most of them of Mexican origin like herself. She wonders what these lives say about her own, such as an older girl who yearns to escape, who waits for “a car to stop, a star to fall, someone to change her life.” She reflects on destiny and concludes that “I think diseases have no eyes. They pick with a dizzy finger anyone, just anyone.” Esperanza is an “anyone” in transition to becoming a “someone” and loves Mango Street only at an emotional distance. She wants it to be better, fairer, or she wants out.
The slim chapters of Cisneros’ book make for quick reading. Each vignette centers on a person, situation, or concept, often describing the games and growing pains of Esperanza and her friends. Some parts, like “Four Skinny Trees,” are elegant prose poetry. By the book’s end, our protagonist has entered puberty and is not the same girl who moved into the house on Mango Street. She is ready for something of her own: “Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem.”
This sharp slice of young adult writing stands as a snapshot of a particular time and place in America, and is likely to remain relevant in classrooms for generations to come.