An entirely too short "novel" with poor writing, poor structure, and terrible characterization
My seventh grade class was assigned to read this "novel" by Sandra Cisneros last year, as a part of our month-long unit on poetry.
I would not call this a novel - nor would I call it a collection of short stories. It is more a bundle of loose and disjointed thoughts, tied together in no ways that I can see, compiled into a 110 "page" (full pages would likely amount to no more than 60) "novel". For those seeking a lengthier read, or even something with actual substance, I advise you to stay away. By the end of The House on Mango Street, you will likely feel dissatisfied and perhaps even upset, as I did.
In terms of writing - i've seen worse. Mostly in comments on news articles, riddled with references to government conspiracies and hostile alien takeovers. The next step up from that would be fan fiction short stories. The House on Mango Street is only a slight step above the fan fiction. If not for the horrendous content (which I will cover later in this review) I would recommend this book to children aged 9 and up. The comprehension level is that low. Do not expect any spectacular feats of poetry from THOMS, either. In this case "poetry" simply means "something too disconnected and scatterbrained to be considered prose".
In terms of structure - I briefly covered this earlier. Stories ranging between 3 pages and half of a single page, connected in no way, each with their own individual titles and a few recurring characters throughout, are all that THOMS consists of. If you're seeking something that feels like someone with the attention span of a golden retriever wrote it, look no further than this book. Perhaps it's a stylistic choice - but I don't believe that is the case, as the protagonist is meant to be around thirteen to fifteen years old.
Speaking of the protagonist - characterization.
Esperanza, presumed to be the narrator of the vignettes in this novel for most cases, is the only character given any semblance of a personality. That personality amounts to - ~fourteen year old Latina girl living in poverty who is a free, adventurous spirit and doesn't need anyone to control her. Not to spoil the rest of the novel - it's not like slowly trying to piece together things about the MAIN CHARACTER of the book is fun or interesting anyways - but a recurring theme is that Esperanza is bridging the gap between child and adult. I will say that it feels blatantly like an adult trying to write a child and doing a rather poor job. Many of my classmates (and myself as well) believed throughout the first 50 or so pages of the book that Esperanza was around ten years of age. I refuse to believe myself that Cisneros didn't simply forget about Esperanza's age halfway through the novel.
Every other character in the book - the recurring ones (in order of general importance) being Esperanza's mother, father, sister Nenny, and Rachel and Lucy (two other neighborhood kids) does not get much in the way of character development. Perhaps a sentence or two of ambitions, or past life, but nothing much else.
The other "characters" (if you could call one-and-done people characters) are the various neighbors of Esperanza as she lives in the titular house on Mango Street. Some are mildly interesting - a man who brings his mother over to America after working hard for years only to find her homesick, a woman from another nearby family selling Avon just to get by and desperately trying to find a husband to provide for her - are brought up once or twice and never mentioned outside of the occasional allusion. It starts to get a little bland after a while, outside of some of those slightly interesting characters.
Here's where my main problem with the characterization comes in - the portrayal Cisneros writes of men and boys.
I will warn of my bias - I myself am male. Your experience may vary.
The positive, important male character in this novel is Esperanza's father. He is mentioned as hardworking a few times. The other positive (non-character) character is the man providing for his mother I mentioned earlier. He is present for one vignette (around one and a half pages if I remember correctly) and never brought up again.
There is, however, no shortage of absolutely awful male characters.
From my memory - men who look at Esperanza and her friends as they walk down the streets in high heels. A homeless man who offers a dollar to Esperanza's friend Rachel for a kiss. A man who forces his daughter to get up early and clean and cook. A man who beats his wife (a ~17 year old woman who has two kids (fun fact, I did the math using estimates of her age and assuming she didn't have twins, she was pregnant for around 7% of her life)). A man who prevents his wife from leaving one room for fear of her abandoning him. Esperanza's grandmother who was trapped by her grandfather and forced into marriage. A man who beats his daughter near daily. A man (of unspecified age) who marries a woman (who is hinted is a prostitute) and forces her to run his errands lest he beats her. A group of boys who force a girl (the one who's father beats her) to kiss them in exchange for her stolen goods (played off as flirting). A man at Esperanza's workplace (again, mentioned once) who forces her into a "birthday" kiss full on the lips. Finally - a group of boys who hold Esperanza down at a carnival and, it is interpreted, physically rape her.
This book may have some positive messages for young girls about individuality and freedom - at the expense of making the majority of men come off as dangerous rapists who treat women like objects.
Perhaps that really was the case in 1984 when this book was written - but it certainly isn't today.
Myself and my male peers were frustrated at our portrayal, and the discussion-based format this book was taught in made for many awkward silences in the class.
On top of that, the absolute lack of subtlety or delicacy with which this book handles the obviously very sensitive and delicate topic of sexual abuse and harassment is almost sickening to me. I only hope that any survivors of sexual assault never pick up this book. I myself was very uncomfortable even reading the crude way the book describes these events. It was as though the safety or emotions of victims was never even considered - it is a tasteless mess.
I would recommend cutting out this terrible content from the book - however, that also removes about 2/3 of its content. Without it, the book is even emptier. So it remains, and another class somewhere is forced to suffer.
Please, please please please, if you are an adult, do NOT force your children to read this. If you are a teacher, do NOT force your class to read this. If you are another kid wondering if you should give this a try - please heed my warnings and consider if you think this would be right for you. Any forced readings and examinations of this would likely serve only to damage the readers' interest in poetry and perhaps slice of life novels as a whole.
Thank you for reading.