I’m really late to the party on this classic. I read the 25th anniversary edition, which included a beautiful forward by the author in which she explains who she was while she was writing this book. A young woman, on the cusp of being a true adult- a woman who wanted badly to please her father and also to satisfy her writer’s heart. She was learning how to express herself, and out came this series of vignettes about life growing up in Chicago. The people in the book are, more or less, built from people she knows in real life. The stories are funny, and heartbreaking. The book will take one cozy afternoon to fly through. Each chapter, only a page or two, three or four at most, tells a complete tale. It’s always so impressive to me when an author can evoke so much in so few words (to be expected, from a poet).
The characters are often haunted by people or events, things they knew and ways in which they will never be known. By reading each short story, we get to see them, to experience them. To know each character, if just for a moment. Each moment is packed with mystery – what is ailing her aunt? Who was Geraldo? What is the truth of Ruthie? But, also, as we read on, we are rewarded with seeing familiar faces and names – by the end of the book, you’re almost chuckling to read about something else those old Vargas kids get up to. Again, it’s masterful how much Cisneros is able to imbue in each of her characters with so few pages.
She expresses the weight of growing up – especially, of growing up female – with delicacy and frankness. The want of being a young girl – wearing high heels for the first time, learning which boys you want to look and which men you’ll need to keep distant from. The heartbreak of Sally’s situation, contrasted with Esperanza’s youthful musings, was really affecting. She has, indeed, gone away to come back – and I’m so thankful for the stories of the ones she never left behind.