The House on Mango Street is yet another book that falls under the category, “Classics I Definitely Should Have Read A Long Time Ago But Somehow Never Did.” I don’t know how these things happen. Honestly, if you knew all the great books I haven’t read, you’d probably declare me unfit to write a book column. But I’m glad I finally got a chance to read The House On Mango Street, because it’s a fantastic book. It’s poetic and funny, even when it’s heartbreaking.
While this is technically a novel, it’s not told in a typical way. Instead of a linear story, we get short vignettes that describe Esperanza’s life on Mango Street in a Latino neighborhood in Chicago. We learn about her surroundings, her neighbors, her hopes and her dreams. What we realize along with Esperanza is how limiting Mango Street can be—not just for her, but for everyone, especially women. She’s surrounded by women who can’t or won’t leave their houses, who are kept there by their own fears or by controlling men. These are women who see men as saviors, even as they’re repeatedly disappointed. Esperanza describes her friend Sally, who gets married before she’s even in eighth grade so she can get away from her physically abusive father, only to end up married to a guy who’s so possessive he won’t even let her look out the window. But Esperanza knows her life doesn’t end at Mango Street. She knows it’s bigger than a window frame.
What I love about The House on Mango Street is that, even though it’s about sex and boys and relationships, ultimately it’s about the power of independent women. Esperanza wants to live on her own, without relying on anyone. Near the end of the book, Esperanza talks about the house she wants for herself: “Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody’s garbage to pick up after. Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before a poem.”
I mean…that’s pretty great, right? I loved The House On Mango Street, and if you haven’t read it yet, you should definitely check it out. It’s a perfect book for anyone who’s ever wanted to escape the life around them.
-The more I read about Sandra Cisneros, the more I fall in love with her. On her website, she says she would love to meet “Pee-Wee Herman, Ru-Paul and John Waters…hopefully at the same time.” If you put Prince in there instead of Pee-Wee, it sounds strangely similar to my own celebrity wish list.
-It’s no accident that The House On Mango Street reads like poetry sometimes—Sandra Cisneros is also a poet!
-Sandra Cisneros writes about her writing process in the introduction: “I searched for the “ugliest” subjects I could find, the most un-“poetic”—slang, monologues in which waitresses or kids talked their own lives. I was trying as best I could to write the kind of book I had never seen in a library or in a school, the kind of book not even my professors could write. Each week I ingested the class readings and then went off and did the opposite. It was a quiet revolution, perhaps a reaction taken to extremes, but it was out of this negative experience that I found something positive: my own voice.”
-Sandra Cisneros also wrote Woman Hollering Creek, Loose Woman and Carmelo.
What about you…have you read The House On Mango Street? Have you read any other Sandra Cisneros books? Let me know in the comments! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.
Book Cover Image Credit: Vintage Books.