This is a classic I never got around to before. It’s deceptively short–I was surprised, honestly, by how easy it was to read. But it has stayed with me since I finished–there’s power in these hundred pages.
Those hundred pages contain 2 or 3-page vignettes told by Esperanza, a 12-year-old Mexican-American girl growing up in a Latino section of Chicago. It’s 100 pages of details, told in vibrant images, and the vignettes are only loosely connected. The stories individually are simple enough, a little abstract sometimes, but together they build a portrait of growing up and turning from a girl into a woman. Esperanza puts grown-up knowledge into little-girl words. Although she addresses–if that’s even the right word–abuse, gender, race, independence, etc, she does so creatively, making a clear point in an oblique, colorful way. In other words, this book is the opposite of heavy-handed.
Cisneros’ subtlety is what makes this book. Memoirs about growing up poor, or “coming of age,” or becoming a woman, can feel very paint-by-numbers. But this is anything but. Even difficult, tragic topics are written in a new way, like looking in a fun house mirror. Cisneros uses her medium to her advantage, she makes her sentences poetry so that they’re part of the storytelling (rather than using them simply to convey a plot point.) So she effectively conveys the feeling of growing up — although I can’t relate to being a Mexican-American 12 year old in Chicago, I remember feeling like that, that deep, deeply adolescent mixture of hope and fear and energy.
Rating: 4/5. If you haven’t read this, pick it up! I’ll definitely re-read it in a bit just to linger over the beautiful sentences again.