The House on Mango Street

Even if you hadn’t already read it in freshman english. Even if you didn’t already know Sandra Cisneros’s poetry. Even if it hadn’t already been the pick for One Book, One Chicago. You’d know with a minute of picking up The House on Mango Street that it was pure poetry.

Another title where I’m not sure how it slipped by my literary education—I knew nothing about it until I picked it up for the first time this year.

It almost seems unfair to review it as a novel, considering how short it is (a mere 110 pages), but then that’s a limiting way to judge a book. Written in 1984 and set in my hometown, The House on Mango Street is a series of vignettes told from the perspective of a young latina named Esperanza Cordero. In each chapter, she provides commentary on her neighborhood, her friends, her family, and the desire for a better life.

As short as each vignette is (some just a handful of sentences), together they create a rich picture of a specific time and place in Chicago’s history. Cisneros’s words breathe life into Esperanza’s world in a way that feels like you could almost reach out and touch it.

Mango Street fell short of a home run for me, though it’s hard to pinpoint why. I think it just didn’t fall within the realm of what I typically love (a meatier text, richer prose), but it was still easy to see how it made it into the canon.

Cisneros’s writing is absolutely beautiful and every now and then, one of the vignettes would drop this beautiful little jewel of truth that really hit home for me, as in the chapter, “A Smart Cookie:”

“Then out of nowhere:
Shame is a bad thing, you know. It keeps you down. You want to know why I quit school? Beacuase I didn’t have nice clothes. No clothes, but I had brains.
Yup, she says disgusted, stirring again. I was a smart cookie then.”

In the book, so many of Esperanza’s experiences with womanhood were the ones that resonated with me. Cisneros has a knack for distilling the experience of growing up as girl into these truly brilliant moments that transcend race and class (though the way she illuminates those nuances is equally brilliant). In those moments, I felt like we really understood each other.

Even though I can’t say this was a favorite or that I loved it, The House on Mango Street is such a rewarding, quick read that I have to recommend it as something everyone should pick up. When even the slowest reader could finish it in an afternoon, there’s really nothing standing in your way.

An Experiment

I’ve been blogging consistently since I was about 14 years old. I had a Xanga. No one read it because I didn’t want anyone to read it. I didn’t tell anyone about it except my best friend, and it stayed that way until college. Then I prepared for study abroad and started a new blog, and a group of about five of my closest friends were aware of it, though I still kept a private blog just for myself (and again, maybe my best friend). What I wrote was a fairly thorough diary of my life and nothing more.

When Tumblr rolled out, I was a senior in college. Everyone I knew signed up for it, but I had no idea what to do with it. The format was foreign to me—it didn’t seem meant for writing and that was all I ever did. But I kept up with it, posting regularly and writing less until I hardly really wrote anything at all. It didn’t take too long to realize this, and for a long time, I hated it but did nothing. I had an audience there, albeit a minuscule one, and I didn’t feel I could go back to hiding everything I wrote.

But late last year, I decided to give myself a challenge.

I was reading more than I had in what felt like my entire life. I was an English major in college, yes, and literature was always my best subject. Yes, I remember being 6 years old and wanting to be a writer. But I never made enough time to read for fun, for myself. Then suddenly I found myself going through a book or two a month. I was always reading something, and it was the most consistent I’d ever been at anything. At around the same time, I was looking for something to dedicate myself to as a way to force myself to write again. I needed some kind of timeline. Some kind of deadline. Something—anything—to compel me.

And then it hit me.

If I reviewed every book I read, I’d post at least once a month. It was an achievable goal. It was realistic.
It was the push I needed.

And now here we are, a good five full months on the dot since I started that project for myself and I haven’t skipped a beat yet.

So where does this leave you?

Well, the experiment will continue. Everything I read, I’ll review, and I’ll review it here. I’ll also be moving over my existing reviews to get started. So everything from my thoughts on Jane Eyre to why I hated Hope: A Tragedy and where I think contemporary YA fiction is going will be here. These are reviews for no one and everyone, and if no one finds this little blog, that’s okay, too. Because most of all, these reviews are for me.

Welcome.

hello, there

This is me.