‘The House on Mango Street’ Book Review

‘The House on Mango Street’ Review

Have you remembered to go back?

Mexican-American author-poet Sandra Cisneros raises this simple question in her timeless classic The House on Mango Street.

This book of vignettes is one that can be opened to any page without having to know what came in the story before, or what comes after, and that invites the reader to reflect on the meaning of its passages that at moments come across as bocadillos de amor, tiny morsels of love, and at others, sadness.

It’s a book about gender, tradition, family, neighbors, single parents, latch-key kids, obligation, shame … denial. No topic is ignored in this book that in all its simplicity and poetry canvasses life in the barrio in so few pages.

Esperanza, whose name means hope, is a young Latina growing up in a poor Chicago neighborhood, in a dilapidated house, who aspires to a life better than the one she sees the women around her living.

She says about her great-grandmother whose name she inherited:

“She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.”

The passage that’s stuck with me is from one of the last vignettes, The Three Sisters. In it three comadres come to visit when a young baby dies. During the wake, one of the women takes Esperanza’s hands in hers, and foretells that she will “go very far.” The old woman then asks her to make a wish, after which she says,

“When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t erase what you are … You must remember to come back. For the ones who cannot leave as easily as you. You will remember?”

Esperanza feels shame because her aunt sees into her soul; it’s obvious what the young girl has wished for. Even though Esperanza does not understand the meaning of her aunt’s words, the day will come when she will.

I’m glad to have finally read this book. It is one that I think should be required reading for all freshman in high school for the universality of its themes. It’s one I’ve carried around, rereading, pondering the last few weeks, making me happy, and sad with the wisdom of its words. It raises questions and depicts situations that not only apply to our Latino youth and the challenges they face as they seek to improve their lives, but also to any community that has been forgotten by not only its law-makers, but also those who have left. It begs the bigger question, “What can we do to help?”

Other questions reading The House on Mango Street raised for me:

  • How do we ensure that positive role models/mentors are available to youth when their home and/or immediate environment have none to offer?
  • What does it mean to have a sense of duty to our “community?” Does it matter how we define “community?”
  • How do our sense of obligation, culture, traditions and gender expectations influence our choices? Can we ever be wrong?

If you have a moment, watch this short video clip in which Sandra Cisneros discusses what inspired her to write The House on Mango Street, where the lines of truth and fiction blurred for her and why she thinks it has resonated so much with today’s youth.

She’s an amazing writer to listen to and read. I hope you enjoy her as much as I did. On to the next book!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Pyf89VsNmg]

Learn more about Sandra Cisneros.

 

GUEST WRITER:

Ezzy is a mom, wife and the daughter of Mexican immigrant parents. She loves to read, is the first in her family to attend college, and feels passionately about education, culture and social awareness.  Find her blogging at www.ezzylanguzzi.blogspot.com.

 

 

Comments

  1. J Olivarez-Mazone says

    If you liked this book Ezzy, you will love her poetry Woman Hollering Creek and her novel titled Caramelo which I enjoyed much more than House on Mango Street. But, if I had to choose a story from the book it would be Lineoluem Roses.

  2. says

    I loved this book, too! It was required reading in college for one of my classes and soon became part of the 9th grade curriculum in my classroom. Some of her little vignettes reminded me of my own childhood in the Chicago-area and others have definitely resonated with my students–who are neither Latina nor from Chicago. There are definitely universal themes in Mango Street with which almost any girl can identify. (The chapter on high heels is always really popular with my students.)

    • says

      Jen, I saw that you gave it a high rating on Good Reads! Wish I could be a fly on the wall to hear discussion surrounding the topics it raises in a classroom setting and to know how much or how little students can relate to the material based on their geographic location. Thank you for sharing your personal experience with it. In all seriousness, it's almost like an out-of-body experience to read a piece of literature that feels so personalized. Cisneros is another author I'd run up to and hug if I ever had the chance to meet her (Sherman Alexie is the other one :). If only I could spend my days reading …

  3. says

    I think I heard of the book when it 1st came out  but never picked it up! I love the 3rd concept that your raise. We all have a duty to our community and our families to preserve our culture and traditions. It's so important to keep those elements alive. Thanks for the review. Convinced me to get it! 

    • says

      Bren, I'd known about this book for several years, as well. All I can tell you is that I wish I'd read it sooner. I hope you do get a chance to pick it up. Would love to hear your thoughts on its themes. Don't let the number of pages fool you, either! The meaning between them is dense. Thank you for commenting and nice to meet you! : )

  4. Matt_lil4rener22 says

    i like this book i can somewhat relate to Esperanza's life i love this book. and i don't even like to read that much but this book was really good it caught my attention.