Book Review: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

I read Sandra Cisneros’s novel The House on Mango Street for the first time when I was in middle school.  It was a class assignment for extra credit.  Most of my classmates didn’t read it, not wanting to spend extra time on even a short book when there was other stuff they could be doing.  I didn’t need the extra credit, but it was book I’d never seen before, which was always exciting for me because at this point, I had read everything in the elementary and middle school libraries, most of it twice, and the entire children’s and young adult section at the public library.  I was making pretty good headway on the adult section too.


At the time, I was struck by the beautiful words of The House on Mango Street, and I felt a certain kinship with the displaced feelings of the narrator.  She came from a different world, a different background than I did, but she seemed lost among the people around her a lot of the time, and that resonated with me.  Now, over a decade later, when I picked the book up again, I didn’t remember much of it, except a few lines here and there, scattered across the book.  I was happy as I found each one rereading the book.


As a more experienced reader, Cisneros’s novel is possibly even more impressive.  The small vignettes that she weaves together to form a story in The House on Mango Street leave the reader with a great scope to imagine what is going on.  Much is left unsaid, but there is so much there in the little details of the story.  The novel reads like oral literature, and as I read it again, I could hear it, and remembered the same sensation, echoing back from myself in middle school.  I always hear when I read, but this book is especially well suited to the way my brain processes the written word.  I hear it in the voice of an experienced, skillful storyteller, and it is captivating.


I wish that my middle school class that read this book had made it required for the entire class, so that maybe I could have talked about it with someone.  The teacher nodded and gave me a good grade on my essay for the book, and he never talked to me about it again.  I was the only one in the class who read it.


I will definitely be coming back to this novel again, and I’m definitely going to go in search of anything else from Cisneros.


Reading Level:  Middle school and up

Themes:  Coming of age narrative, experimental writing styles (vignettes, mosaic novel), personal identity


Book Review: Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li’s most recent novel Kinder Than Solitude is another amazing piece of writing from an author who has quickly become one of my favorites.  While I had mixed feelings about her other novel, The Vagrants, I feel uniformly entranced by Kinder Than Solitude.


The novel covers the events of several decades in non-chronological order, following three childhood friends as they remember and deal with the aftereffects of the unfortunate illness and eventual death of someone who had been close to all three of them.  Like much of Li’s work, the novel deals with loneliness and lost connections.  All three central characters are at loose ends as adults, and they are broken and divided from their pasts.


Yiyun Li impressed me greatly in her earlier collections of short stories with how she portrayed feelings of loneliness, disconnectedness, and betrayal.  In her first novel, The Vagrants, it seemed that she wasn’t able to maintain such fascinating characters over the course of the length of a novel, but in Kinder Than Solitude, she impressed me with a novel length work that held up to the strength of my favorite novellas from Gold Boy Emerald Girl.


Reading Level:  late high school and up

Topics:  loneliness, disconnectedness, life in China

I think that it would be fascinating to pair this with Albert Camus’s novel L’Etranger (The Stranger) in a literature class.  I like this novel a lot better than Camus’s novel, but I think that there are some interesting parallels and literary relationships between the two books, and I would have to read them one after the other to figure out why I think that this would be a good idea.