Acclaimed by critics, beloved by readers of all ages, taught everywhere from inner-city grade schools to universities across the country, and translated all over the world, The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero.
Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous – it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become.
I've heard about this book for a number of years and I've yet to hear one bad review of it. And you won't find one here today! This was never required reading for me in school, but here lately it seems to be popping up on the Booktube radar again. It being such a short read, I figured now was as good a time as any to scratch it off the TBR.
I enjoyed how all the vignettes illustrated all the facets and little details that give a community its uniqueness -- the people and their specialty businesses, the "homemade fun" neighborhood kids come up with, as well as the psychological aspects such as broken families struggling to continue on, some struggling with depression; people's inner fears, dreams and longings; the desire to escape for some; the secrets that go on behind closed doors. The story also brings up neighborhood crime and how that affects everyone.
There's a feeling of innocence to the stories until about halfway through the book. Then the tone seems to do a sharp turn into dark and somewhat seedy territory. It reminded a bit of when I read Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson... though maybe not quite as grim. So many of the characters here seem to have pasts tinged with sadness (but then, who doesn't, I suppose) and so many just trying to make it through each day... making this one read that any number of readers will probably find relatable on at least some level.
I found this to be a very quiet, contemplative read. There is one scene that hints at a sexual assault, but aside from that, the novel is predominately just simple but striking observations within a single community. What I especially enjoyed about Cisneros' writing is her unique way of describing things. For example, this description of laughter:
Nenny and I don't look like sisters... not right away... But me and Nenny, we are more alike than you would know. Our laughter for example. Not the shy ice cream bells' giggle of Rachel and Lucy's family, but all of a sudden and surprised like a pile of dishes breaking.
How beautiful and perfectly audible is that! :-) My favorite passage though, the part I found most moving, was when the main character, Esperanza, tells the story of her namesake:
It was my great-grandmother's name and now it is mine. My great-grandmother. I would have liked to have known her, a wild horse of a woman, so wild she wouldn't marry. Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off. Just like that, as if she were a fancy chandelier. That's the way he did it.
And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn't be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don't want to inherit her place by the window.
Ugh, breaks my heart but so good! I definitely recommend giving this one at least one read in your life. It's such a short read, I doubt it'll take you more than a few hours at most but the writing is simple yet stunningly impactful, proving a work doesn't have to be chock full of flowery, pompous words to rightfully be deemed a classic.