Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fiction Review: The House on Mango Street

-->When my son was assigned The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros for his freshman lit class, I decided I would read it when he finished. Not only do I like to read what my kids read in their literature classes, but this one was one of the books the girls read in The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls by Julie Schumaker, a teen novel I enjoyed last summer. When my son missed a month of school recently and needed some help catching up, I read the novel so I could provide some guidance to him. Besides wanting to help my son, I really enjoyed this brief and unique novel.

The main character, Esperanza, is a teen Hispanic girl living in Chicago with her family. They have moved into their first house, a small red house on Mango Street. Esperanza struggles with the same issues as any teen girl – friends, family, school, feeling self-conscious, and wondering what the rest of her life will be like – but she is also dealing with issues unique to families living in poverty. She worries about what the other kids at school will think of her limited wardrobe and what will become of another girl on her street whose father hits her and all sorts of other issues not familiar to most middle class kids. She makes plans to escape this life and this street, to live in a house all by herself and live a life different from the difficult one her own family leads.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this slim novel was the same thing my 15-year old son didn’t like: its unique format. Esperanza tells her story in a series of distinct vignettes that slowly yield the details of her life, her thoughts, and her dreams. My son found this confusing and said he prefers a story that is told chronologically, but I enjoyed seeing the puzzle pieces gradually come together. Another aspect of the format that makes it somewhat confusing is the author’s lack of quotation marks, something my son and I both agreed we didn’t like!

This engaging and distinctive novel is a quick read. Each chapter is brief, sometimes only a few paragraphs long. The reader gradually comes to know Esperanza through the details of her life on Mango Street and to root for her to achieve her goals and stay safe and find her way in the world.  Reading the author’s introduction (in the 25th anniversary edition we had) is further enlightening, as we discover that much of the novel is autobiographical. I enjoyed The House on Mango Street very much and was glad to have a chance to read it sooner rather than later.

110 pages, Vintage Contemporaries

This book takes place in Chicago, IL, and counts toward my Books I Should Have Read Challenge.


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