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