I read The House on Mango Street because it is the One Book, One Chicago pick for this season. (Utter Scoundrel is now saying “Ahem, you haven’t read The Long Goodbye yet”. It’s on my shelf!)
This slim volume of vignettes is from the point of view of a young girl named Esperanza living in Chicago. The House is the first her family has ever owned, but it is rather too small for the group of them and she finds it shabby. She goes so far as to say she is ashamed.
What I like is that the stories illuminate her identity in several ways. There were many places where I could absolutely relate to her experience and others that were just..foreign. For example, Esperanza first gets a job to pay her tuition to Catholic school. Her father told her that “nobody went to public school unless they wanted to turn out bad”.
I know about kids that worked for pocket money. And kids that worked because they wanted new clothes. Hell – even kids that worked to help pay the bills. But I had never heard of kids that had to work because their parents wouldn’t send them to public school. Interesting.
There were pieces that were observations about the neighbors. One that wanted to go home and cried when her young son started to speak – English. One who was so pretty that her husband locked her in the house when he went to work. A school friend whose father hit her.
There was one toward the end that made me think:
She is talking with three old ladies at a funeral. They tell her to make a wish. Then one says:
“When you leave you must remember to come back. For the ones who cannot leave as easily as you.”
Esperanza was ashamed that they knew what she wished for. That she had made such a selfish wish. I thought, “Geez. Doesn’t every thirteen year old girl wish she could go away and never come back?”
Doesn’t every thirteen year old girl hate her name? Weren’t we all caught in a horrible place between wanting to climb trees and wanting to wear lipstick?
I understand they are teaching this book in schools now. I hope the thirteen year old girls get that message.