This critically acclaimed classic by Sandra Cisneros tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina growing up in Chicago. Rather than a plot with a beginning and an end, Esperanza’s story consists of a series of brief vignettes that create a mosaic, fragmented pieces that come together to form a complex portrait of an immigrant girl’s life.
Two paragraphs about her family’s hair. Three pages about her longings to take a sandwich to school for lunch. A quick story about the white girl with all the cats whose family is moving away because the neighborhood is filling up with immigrants. A page about the city’s skinny trees with deep roots.
The short book is full of gems, moments when Esperanza’s thoughts echo the universal human experience with startling clarity, like the three-paragraph chapter on fear:
Those who don’t know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we’re dangerous. They think we will attack them with shiny knives. They are stupid people who got lost and got here by mistake.
But we aren’t afraid. We know the guy with the crooked eye is Davey the Baby’s brother, and the tall one next to him in the straw brim, that’s Rosa’s Eddie V., and the big one that looks like a dumb grown man, he’s Fat Boy, though he’s not fat anymore, nor a boy.
All brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake and our care windows get rolled up tight and our eyes look straight. Yeah. That’s how it goes and goes.
Or the recurring theme of longing for a real house, one without rats or the smell of garbage rising from the alley.
One days I’ll own my own house, but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I’ll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house. Some days after dinner, guests and I will sit in front of a fire. Floorboards will squeak upstairs. The attic grumble. Rats? they'll ask. Bums, I’ll say, and I’ll be happy.
The House on Mango Street is a little book, but it packs a big punch.