Book Review: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

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January 27, 2016
I am not a poetry person. I mentioned to my husband not long ago that I don’t know if I’m not a poetry person because I don’t understand poetry or if it’s just the simple fact that I don’t like it, like some people don’t like genre fiction or young adult. I think maybe that conversation was what made me pick up this book, but also what sort of made me regret picking it up at first because it bored and lulled me to sleep the first couple of times I tried to start it.

This is a very short book, though, and I decided to fight through the drowsiness and get to the end because while the writing style wasn’t too much to my liking, the story itself was very captivating. After the first 20 pages or so the writing stopped being so distracting and I could finally appreciate the power of this novel, which made for a very personal reading experience.

Emphasis on the personal!

The House on Mango Street is a novel written as a series of vignettes that tell the coming-of-age story of Esperanza, a Mexican-American adolescent girl growing up in Chicago. This series of vignettes covers about a year of Esperanza’s life and follows her through significant moments in her life that relate to her family, friends, school, puberty, abuse and misogyny, all the while capturing her struggle of feeling like an outsider. While some of these vignettes are very personal, Esperanza also takes the time to talk about the people in her neighborhood, highlighting the way she sees her future reflected in their lives.

This book felt personal in a way no other book has ever made me feel before. It seemed to tell stories from a personal diary that I never really kept, but also showed me glimpses of what my mother’s life must have been like— a woman who only ever wanted to leave her house and who eventually accomplished it, but not without a ball and chain strapped to her ankle. It also made me wonder what life was like for my grandmother, or my mother in law, who was actually born in Mexico and later on moved to Chicago like one of the characters in the novel— did her heart also break when her children started speaking a language in which she wasn’t very fluent?

But the character that I could personally relate to the most was Esperanza, or at least parts of her. Growing up, I didn’t have any of the struggles or heartbreaking experiences that she did. My parents did, for sure; financial struggles paired up with the need to provide for their children and everything that entails, but I was an oblivious child and unlike Esperanza, I wasn’t aware of the things that troubled my parents or our neighbors, the gritty reality of living in an impoverished neighborhood, the latent misogyny in Latino culture, and the abuse that’s become the status quo in our society.

I was a lucky child. But I still didn’t feel like I belonged. I couldn’t relate to the people living around me, the kids I went to school with and sometimes even my family. Sandra Cisneros does a great job showcasing the feeling of being an outsider in your own community and the childish feeling of superiority that comes with being (or just feeling) different. I, too, thought I was better than those around me because I wanted more, because I dreamed bigger, because I couldn’t wait to get away from that suffocating place.
One day I will pack my bags of books and paper. One day I will say goodbye to Mango. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever.
And I did. I packed my bags, I said goodbye, and now every once in awhile I get hit with ridiculous amounts of nostalgia because getting away doesn’t really mean getting away. It took me longer than it took Esperanza to figure that out. Who you are, where you’re from and who you’re related to will always be a part of you, whether you like it or not. You might as well embrace it.
You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can't erase what you know. You can't forget who you are.
This novel was lovely and Esperanza was a fantastic character. An adolescent child who felt out of place, who knew what she wanted but was conscious of the fact that it would be a while before she could get it, and yet instead of letting that bring her down, she tried to make the best of her situation, tried to enjoy life. Another thing I enjoyed was the wide cast of characters; whether they showed up only once or had a recurring role, they helped give life to Esperanza’s world while portraying the issues and struggles of their community.

It was a sweet, heartbreaking, delightful story and I thoroughly recommend it.

1 comment on "Book Review: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros"
  1. I nominated you for the 2016 Liebster Award! For more info, visit The Reading Hideaway. Congrats and hope to hear from you soon!


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