The House on Mango Street is one of those books I looked at in bookstores probably dozens of times before I finally read it; I'm sorry it took me so long.
A collection of short stories comprising a larger narrative, it's a little gem of a story of a young girl coming of age in a poor neighborhood. Each chapter is an individual story or vignette of young Esperanza's neighbors and friends, little episodes from her life. The young narrator shows different facets of her own personality through each portrait- a sense of humor, a sense of outrage, hope, optimism, sadness, pity, pride, shame, and compassion:
One day I'll own my own house, but I won't forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I'll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house.This passage shows her hopes for herself (bettering her lot in life, owning her own home, having friends over for dinner parties by a fireplace- an idyllic middle class life), as well as her naivete- maybe her homeless friends upstairs would like to come down, too.
Some days after dinner, guests and I will sit in front of a fire. Floorboards will squeak upstairs. The attic grumble.
Rats? they'll ask.
Bums, I'll say, and I'll be happy.
The simplicity and openness of Esperanza's tone in this and other passages belies the book's serious undercurrents. Though the individual vignettes have an innocent charm, themes of desperation and fear run throughout, through stories of her neighbors and friends, many of them women, trapped, by poverty, by abuse, by illness, by a lack of education, or by a lack of imagination. By the end of the book we come to understand that she uses her writing as a means of escape, and so there is hope.
The House on Mango Street is a lovely, sweet book for teens and adults about what it means to grow up and find meaning in life. I'd recommend it for just about anyone.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.