August 11, 2021 7:36 AM EDT

After studying poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the mid-1970s, Sandra Cisneros moved back home to Chicago and taught former dropouts at the Latino Youth High School. All of these influences—the city, the students, the poetic approach to language—are palpable in The House on Mango Street, the series of semi-autobiographical vignettes that coalesced to form the Mexican American author’s first novel. A modern classic that has survived several misguided banning campaigns to become a staple of English syllabi, The House on Mango Street filters the life of a working-class Latinx neighborhood through the perspective of 12-year-old Esperanza Cordero, a bright girl who’s quickly absorbing tough lessons about racism, inequality and growing up female. In concise yet impressionistic prose that never talks down to young readers, Cisneros masterfully balances gravity with humor and universal rites of passage with cultural specificity. —Judy Berman

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