Book: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Publisher: Vintage Contemporaries
Publication date: 1984
Summary: In a series of episodic vignettes, The House on Mango Street describes the childhood and adolescence of Esperanza Cordero in a Chicago neighborhood of rundown houses, many divided into multiple units. From the moment she tells us her name, we learn that she wants a different life than her ancestors:
It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine. She was a horse woman too, born like me in the Chinese year of the horse–which is supposed to be bad luck if you’re born female–but I think this is a lie because the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don’t like their women strong. p. 10
Thoughts: I graduated from college in 1984, the year this book was published, so it was never on my reading lists, but I understand why it’s taught now. The young protagonist makes the story accessible to students. The poetic beauty demonstrates the power of words. The understated handling of the most dramatic moments allow young people to exercise their interpretive abilities and gives them lots to talk about.
Our book club of adults found a lot to talk about as well. Since we read books about race in America, usually focusing on the black experience, this story allowed us to compare and contrast with a different minority group. We got a long conversation out of the piece that began with this paragraph:
Those who don’t know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we’re dangerous. They think we will attack them with shiny knives. They are stupid people who are lost and got here by mistake. p. 28
Appeal: The House on Mango Street is a beautiful book, short and quickly read, that tells Americans about ourselves by focusing on one community that many of us are ignorant about. A book for everyone, high school aged and above.
Reviews: Like other modern classics, this book has been reviewed by lots of book bloggers. Here are three that tackle something a little differently than I did:
Pages of Julia’s Blog. Julia read the 25th anniversary edition and loved the introductory essay. One of our book club members mentioned that she really liked that as well. My copy didn’t have it.
AnnotationNation. This review went deeply into exactly how and why this book is considered good literature.
Coffeespoons. This post explored the emotional impact of The House on Mango Street.
Have you read this book? What did you think?