The House on Mango Street isn’t a novel. It isn’t even a series of short stories. Rather, the book by Sandra Cisneros is a collection of brief vignettes about growing up in a little house in a poor Chicago neighborhood.
In a little house on Mango Street, our protagonist Esperanza Cordero comes of age. Each vignette offers the reader a look into her life; some events are significant and sets her on the course toward the woman she will become, while others are just fleeting memories of life’s mundane moments.
At first, Cisneros’ writing style was jarring, but then I fell in love with it fast and hard; she writes like a poet and a child at the same time, as though a brilliant and eloquent grown-up writer became stuck inside the body of a child who still looks at the world with bright, innocent eyes.
“She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow,” she wrote of her great-grandmother. “I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.”
The House on Mango Street is short enough to read in just a few hours, and most vignettes are barely a page long. Early on in the book her words hadn’t yet sucked me in and the vignettes, which may or may not all be chronological, did not seem to be leading me anywhere. It took me about twenty pages or so to realize that with this particular read, feeling and emotion mattered far more than story progression or plot.
I want to be
like the waves on the sea,
like the clouds in the wind,
but I’m me.
One day I’ll jump
Out of my skin.
I’ll shake the sky
like a hundred violins.
Weaved into her words are the typical (yet still profound) emotions we all experience as adolescents, but also a keen awareness that, even as young as she is, she is poor, she is brown, she is female—and life will be harder for it.
“Those who don’t know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we’re dangerous,” she writes. “They think we will attack them with shiny knives. They are stupid people who are lost and got here by mistake.”
Frankly, I wish I’d read it as a 12-year-old just to have it in my life sooner, but I’m sure I appreciate it much more now. It’s a book you might consider too short and simple to pick up now as an adult, but anyone who thinks this would be tragically wrong. It’s deceptive in its simplicity; saying so much with so few words requires a writing ability I could only dream of.
In a world of endless adult novels saying nothing over the course of hundreds of pages, the book is a breath of fresh air.
In the end, The House on Mango Street is about a girl who grows up, resists oppression, and finds her own unique voice. What better lesson could we want for ourselves and our daughters?
For the month of July, I’m reading the newly released The Girls by Emma Cline.
Though I haven’t so much as cracked open the cover yet, I have high expectations. The book, which follows the female friendships formed between women lured into Charles Manson’s cult in the 1970s, is one of the largest publishing deals of 2016 and is already a New York Times darling. We shall see.
As always, use #TheEverygirlReads on Twitter and Instagram to document your new reads!