The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros has always been one of those book titles that I knew, but I didn’t know how or why I knew it. Before this past summer I had never read it before, and I had never even really put together that the Sandra Cisneros I read in my Spanish classes in college (that of Woman Hollering Creek) was also the same person who wrote The House on Mango Street. When I stumbled across it in my town’s tiny public library over the summer, the cover immediately looked familiar to me. But I just couldn’t put a finger on why.
After finishing the book, I remembered: it used to be on display all the time in the library at my middle school, always one of those books the librarians used to keep upright on the tops of bookcases so you could see the cover. I had read the title in countless popular book lists before, ones with names like “Classic Children’s Literature You Must Read” and “Diverse Books for Young Readers.” For some reason I had just never picked it up. As someone who was a single class credit away from a Spanish minor in college, this always seemed to surprise people. Friends, librarians, teachers, and professors have always recommended this book to me. And now I know why. There are countless reasons why you should read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Here are five of them.
1. Cisneros’ Introduction.
I’d venture to say that I loved the Introduction of this novel just as much as I love the actual novel itself. Cisneros explains how she came to write this book, explaining that she felt ostracized when she moved from Chicago to Iowa for graduate school because she is Mexican American. Eventually she realized that she should write the book that none of her classmates could, the book that would encapsulate her childhood and the childhoods of so many other Mexican Americans that faced discrimination and “othering” because of the color of their skin or the language they spoke at home or where their parents were born. The last few sentences of this Introduction nearly made me tear up—they are just so powerful and striking.
2. The structure.
In her Introduction, Cisneros talks about wanting to write a book that was somewhere between poetry and prose, and she absolutely nailed it. Although this there is a main character (Esperanza) and kind of a plot (she grows up over time) these chapters could also be viewed as their own little complete pieces of writing. The House on Mango Street is both specific and universal at the same time, aiming to tell both the story of Cisneros’ childhood as well as the childhood of so many other children who also felt different growing up because of their Mexican Americanness.
3. The writing.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for good writing. What makes Cisneros’ writing so good is that it’s seemingly effortless, genuine, and honest. There’s no trying to make things sound eloquent or heightened. She writes as a child would speak, writes as though a child is simply telling you a story. It’s the kind of writing that keeps you turning pages, which maybe explains why I read this book all in one sitting.
4. The story.
The story itself is cute, hilarious, heartwarming, and heartbreaking. It’s the story of one and the story of many. It’s a story seldom told, at least not nearly as often as it should be heard. It’s a story well worth reading.
Perhaps my favorite part of this novel was Esperanza, the main character. She is sweet and honest and uncertain about her future and her place in the world, which is something I think we can all relate to at one point or another. It’s through Esperanza that Cisneros exposes the way Mexican Americans were (and are still) made to feel “other” in society. While all the white people in her neighborhood fear Mexican Americans they see on the street, Esperanza explains their backstories and personalities, humanizing the people that society tries to portray as other. You can’t help but root for her.
I adore this novel and am definitely kicking myself that I didn’t read it sooner. Do yourself a favor—if you’ve never read The House on Mango Street, check it out ASAP!
What are your thoughts on this novel? Any other books by Sandra Cisneros that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!