Dec 10, 2010

The House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

Through a series of brief vignettes, Cisneros tells the story of a young Latino girl growing up in a poor city neighborhood. She mentions her siblings, how she hates her shabby little house, all the various characters in the neighborhood- those she's afraid of, admires, thinks are crazy, whatever. How women are oppressed, men often abusive, love and security something everyone searches for in their own way. She talks about how she doesn't want to belong there, wants to leave and find something more. The short book is like a collective snapshot of her neighborhood and some thoughts, all slapped together like a collage. One you wouldn't get much from unless you already knew the stories behind the pictures. Because, even though so many readers have loved this book (and apparently it's taught in schools across the country!)

While I did sometimes like the imagery Cisneros used (other times it just made no sense) it all ran through my head like water through a sieve. Most of the characters in the book are mentioned once and hardly again, so it's difficult to get a sense of any of them as people. Even when some of them showed up again, I hardly recognized them. Each little chapter is so short- barely more than a single page- I never felt like I got much meat out of them. The story doesn't really progress, it's just a collection of moments- which works okay sometimes, but didn't here for me. I got to the end and wondered what I'd just read. Nothing stuck. I didn't even get a sense of place at all. Turned back through the pages and not once did I see it mentioned that the neighborhood was in Chicago, like the back cover says. Where does it say that?

I feel like a dissenter here, but I just don't get what's so great about this book. Maybe I read it too fast. Maybe it's better in the original Spanish- although my copy doesn't mention a translator, so I wonder if the author wrote this version into English herself? Anyhow, my disappointment with The House on Mango Street certainly doesn't encourage me to try anything else by this author.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 110 pages, 1984

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Amanda said...

Oh I am so glad to hear someone agree on this one! I always feel so bad when this book comes up. Between the vagueness of the book and the fantastic amount of arrogance from the author's voice, I just bristled the whole time I read it.

I believe this was originally written in English. I had thought it was in Spanish first when I read it, but later was told it was original English by a commenter. Cisneros is either from San Antonio or lives here or lived here for a long time, something like that, and so there's a lot of stuff about her here. Like I believe her house is now considered a monument of some sort? Plus she wrote a short story about Woman Hollering Creek which is an actual creek just east of SA that I've passed over many times. I always think I SHOULD like her, but she just rubs me wrong.

Anyway, thanks for the review.

Bybee said...

School curriculums went mad in a big way for Cisneros and I think it's because she filled some neccessary spaces -- she's female and she's Hispanic. I don't really care for The House on Mango Street but I'm fond of Woman Hollering Creek.

Biblibio said...

This was part of my 7th grade English curriculum. I hated every moment of it.

The main problem with The House on Mango Street is that it's not really anything. Vignette collections still need a lasting cohesiveness which I definitely did not get. Then the question: is this a kids book or an adult book? Does the concept make up for the execution? Are a few startling, wonderful images enough to hold up the whole book?

Like I said, I hated this book. I understand your disappointment (and then some...), understand your complaints (I felt absolutely no connection to any character at any point in the book) and understand also why you feel like a dissenter. I think a lot of times books end up in the curriculum for the wrong reasons. That's not what makes them good books.

Jeane said...

Amanda- I didn't really get a sense of arrogance, but the vagueness was definitely a problem for me. I just happened to think the book was first published in spanish, because I saw that on another review. I wonder which it really was?

Bybee- I had no idea how many people had to read this in school until I started reading other reviews and commentaries. Maybe I'll trying Woman Hollering Creek- it's been mentioned to me a few times- but not anytime soon!

Biblibio- Well, I'm glad to know all my points for not liking this book make sense to some! Also glad I didn't have to read it in school. I felt like the book was aimed at young adults, but mostly just because of its brevity. It does have a lot of serious subjects, but you kind of have to read between the lines to get them at all.