Esperanza Cordero lives on Mango street in a house that is not her house. The real house is out there waiting for her and it has beautiful windows and white polished bannisters. But for now Esperanza lives in this house, on Mango Street.
I’m not sure what to say about this book. It does not lend itself to direct proclamations. Oh this is a tale of coming of age! Oh this is how [insert riveting plotpoint where the main character battles dragons]! Rather the main character is translucent, presented only in her own narration of her neighborhood.
“I make a story for my life, for each step my brown shoe takes.”
It is a short book, but even so it takes a while to read. Told in a series of vignettes, each chapter is densely packed with scents and colors twisting into memories so vivid you could swear they were your own. You can smell the wet asphalt you used to ride your bike down, hear the sound of jump rope skipping against the ground, see the people in the windows as you passed them by. Feel the insecurity at lunch time at school were seemingly random things made you cool. Or not cool.
Esperanza is the one who binds the stories of the people in the neighborhood together. In those vignettes however we don’t just meet the neighborhood, we get to see Esperanza finding her own voice.
This is the kind of book that you want to return to over and over. Once you read it, it never really leaves you. There is hope in there, but also the sense of entrapment that only a childhood street can offer. Esperanza is determined to make it out.
“My mother says when I get older my dusty hair will settle and my blouse will learn to stay clean, but I have decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain.”
In this way the book explores the way women give up parts of their lives and ambitions to stay behind, to take care of the men. In the end we do not know if Esperanza makes it out. She dreams of a future where she does make it out, but also where she comes back to the house on Mango Street.
“They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out.”