Friday, July 18, 2008

REVIEW: The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros. This edition published 1984 by Vintage Contemporaries. Literary Fiction.

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.
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.
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.

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.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.


literatehousewife said...

I took a poetry class in grad school and Cisneros was one of the poets we read. For whatever reason poetry isn't something I "get" very easily. I enjoyed reading her poems, though. Since I'm more of a narrative kind of gal, I'll have to look out for this. I know I've seen the cover many times but associated the author only with poetry.

Wendy said...

I really loved this book when I read it a couple of years ago - Cisneros'
writing is just beautiful (I love when poets write novels!). Glad it was a winner for you too.

Rochelle Cashdan said...

I hope you'll read and review Cisneros' Caramelo. A novel for adults and not as well known as The House, much longer, continually interesting and very well written. Mexico as seen through the eyes of a child who lives in the US but visits her grandparents in Mexico City every summer. I live in Mexico and think this book the best introduction to Mexico around.