Saturday, March 13, 2010

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (book review)

"I knew then I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to. But this isn't it. The house on Mango Street isn't it."

And so twelve-year-old Esperanza begins her first year on Mango Street, the first time she and her family have ever had a real house. But it isn't a house that Esperanza feels proud of. She is ashamed of its creaky steps, the cracks in the walls, and the ordinary hallway stairs. She wants nothing more to escape from the barrio, the Latino neighborhood she and her family are now living, where men have all the power and the women around her are trapped in desperate situations from which they can't escape. Take Rafaela, whose boyfriend never allows her to leave the house for fear that she might run away with someone else. Or Sally, who married an abusive husband in order to escape her abusive father. Or Minerva, only a year or two older than Esperanza but already with a husband and two children. Esperanza doesn't want same fate to befall her as has these women. She wants to become someone independent, someone whose power is her own. Someone with a house that she can point to and feel pride. And over the course of a year on Mango Street, Esperanza learns a great deal more about herself and her dreams than she could ever have imagined.

This was a very good book. It was told in a series of short vignettes, none much more than three or four pages, all about Esperanza, her family, or other members of their community. Over the course of the book, which isn't very long, we learn a great deal about the protagonist and the culture she lives in. Esperanza is a complex and meaningful character whom one can really become connected to over the course of the book. The reader will also become attached to the various other characters Cisneros introduces throughout the course of the book, as well as their sad stories.

As far as plot goes, there isn't really a linear plot in this book. Basically, it follows Esperanza as she lives out one year in the barrio, suffering some great losses and finding out a lot about herself in the process. She makes friends and loses them, and struggles to deal with her growing interest in boys. During the course of the story, Esperanza's wish for independence conflicts with her wish for a boyfriend or husband. It soon becomes clear to her that, at least in the barrio, women cannot have one of these things without having to give up the other completely. At least not easily.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

For some reason I just couldn't connect with this book. Having grown up in a primarily-hispanic section of San Antonio, the characters felt fake to me. :(