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The House on Mango Street – Sandra Cisneros – 6/10

Mango Summary (from the blurb): The House on Mango Street tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, whose neighbourhood is one of harsh realities and harsh beauty. Esperanza doesn't want to belong – not to her rundown neighbourhood, and not to hte low expectations the world has for her. Esperanza's story is that of a young girl coming into her power, and inventing for herself what she will become.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this. On the one had, the vignettes are beautiful, Cisneros has a perfect turn of simile, and the hopelessness of the district is evoked through a child's indomitable optimism. On the other, Esperanza doesn't do all that much "inventing for herself what she will become". While her desire to leave Mango Street and its rented predecessors behind is obvious, and she reflects a number of times on girls who did get out of it, through marriage or study, she doesn't seem to have much of a plan for getting out of it. Maybe I'm just being harsh, or maybe the blurb has missed the point a little.

Because the descriptions are really beautiful – I was tagging them with sticky coloured tabs until I realised that there was a forest of pink growing out of the side of a 109-page novella/short story collection/YA novel (Wikipedia says "a coming-of-age novel"). A few of my favourites:

        "It's small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you'd think they were holding their breath"

        "Can't you see they smell like a broom?"  (what does a broom smell like?)

        "Not the shy ice cream bells' giggle of Rachel and Lucy's family, but all of a sudden and surprised like a pile of dishes breaking"

        "You can never have too much sky. You can fall asleep and wake up drunk on sky, and sky can keep you safe when you are sad."

        "They don't walk like ordinary dogs, but leap and somersault like an apostrophe and comma."

Some of the vignettes have unpextedly dark endings: "This is the tree we chose for the First Annual Tarzan Jumping Contest. Meme won. And broke both arms." and the story of Louie's other cousin with the yellow car; Edna the landlady who threw out a pregnant woman because she owned a duck ("and it was a nice duck too"). Esperanza doesn't appear to recognise the dark side of the stories, just accepts it as something that happens in life. Much as she appears to accept the bad things which happen to her without reflecting on them very much (which I didn't understand – I didn't even notice one of them until I read the Wikipedia entry and had to go back for it – there was such little introspection that I didn't understand what had happened). The book touches on very dark themes – domestic and sexual abuse, ghettoism (is that a word?), poverty, but all in such an innocent voice that it is very difficult to take it seriously.

I can't figure out the cover either. Whether the veil is representation of Esperanza's innocence, which is slowly being lifted, whether it is a typically sad scene of three Hispanic women on Mango Street (the three sisters, perhaps?), or some other issue that I missed? Who knows.

I can't penalise the book because I didn't understand it, so 6/10 is solidly on language.

Has anyone out there read it? Someone tell me what I missed?


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