The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is a novella full of short, diary-style vignettes detailing a year in the life of a 13-year-old Hispanic girl who has just moved to Mango Street, a Latino neighborhood in Chicago; perfect for those middle school student who can relate to the shared emotions and experiences. Esperanza Cordero dreams of a decent home in a nice neighborhood, but appreciates the fact that their new house is not like the decrepit apartment they just left. Most of her time is spent on the streets interacting with the neighboring girls. Her brothers ignore all females outside the confines of their home, but her pesky younger sister, Nenny, tags along uninvited. At this tender age between adult and childhood, Esperanza experiments at being “grown up”, trying to walk with high heeled shoes to the jeers of the neighborhood men (the shoes are then quietly boxed up and eventually discarded). Life for women in this community is anything but fair. Some women never get to leave the confines of their home once they are married due to jealous husbands. Daughters are closely watched by their fathers and beaten for wayward behaviors. Esperanza’s mother encourages her to follow her dreams and move on from her current life. She doesn’t want her to end up like the grandmother who was kidnapped by her husband and forced to watch life pass her by, spending each day looking out the window of a second story apartment.
A short book, the reader sees life reflected through the eyes of Esperanza as she attempts to define her place in the community, searching for a means of expression in an adult society which often restricts the role of women. It is no accident that the name Esperanza means hope, since survival in a world where girls are mistreated and/or molested as a matter of course requires a strong will and drive to achieve something better.
Adults will find Cisneros’ semi-autobiographical book a compelling coming of age story with a sense of the poetic mixed into the stark realism. Reissued for the 25th anniversary in 2009, it is one of the few Hispanic books from that time period which has become renowned. While there is no real plot and the normal conventions of written grammar are ignored, the emotions are still relevant for modern readers to absorb.
Four stars. This review also appears on Goodreads.