50 Books Every Woman Should Read Before She Turns 40 was The House on Mango Street (1984) by Sandra Cisneros. I did not realize this until I had actually finished Mango Street, but I'd already read Caramelo by Cisneros years ago and enjoyed it. I like repeating authors when I appreciate their writing, and I was again impressed by Cisneros's writing and perspective with this book. However, I was always looking for more detail, and I often felt left behind and looking for more.
The House on Mango Street is a relatively short novel made up of a number of brief, poetic vignettes about a teenage Latina girl growing up in a small house in a Chicana and Puerto Rican neighborhood in Chicago. The girl, Esperanza Cordero, often felt like a placeholder for the author, but it is unclear how much fact and fiction mix in this story.
The stories focused on Esperanza, her friends, and her neighbors. The neighborhood is poor, and the house is something of a disappointment to Esperanza when they first move in. Esperanza wants to grow up and get out of her neighborhood. One chapter tells how her first boss forced a kiss on her while another details a sexual assault at a carnival. One of the more memorable characters, Sally, and Esperanza's classmate, is a tragic mix of beauty and desperation.
If you haven't yet figured out by my short and muddled description above, I'm having a hard time gathering my thoughts in a meaningful way. I often have problems connecting with characters in short stories. I like to get into people's heads, really understand where they come from, and what their lives are like. But the little snapshots that Cisneros gave me were not enough. I wanted more detail about the characters' lives, what they were thinking, and how they lived. I wanted to know what happened to Sally and what was going on with the woman locked in her house by her husband. I kept seeing fascinating little glimpses, but not enough to be truly meaningful or memorable for me. So when it comes to writing the review, my mind is mostly blank. I guess an overarching narrative helps me retain and sort my thoughts.
The House on Mango Street is a classic and has won tons of awards. The writing is often perceptive and beautiful. It is possible that what kept me from loving this book would be what other readers find most impressive.