Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as thirty-nine authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!
About Tehlor Kinney
Tehlor is a YA author, poet, and impassioned advocate living in the wilds of Southern Oregon. She is a proud biracial Latina that doesn’t know the meaning of the words ‘not enough.’ Tehlor loves poetry, trees, tacos, the smell of printed pages, and the magic that lingers in the creases of everyday life. She is represented by Jim McCarthy of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management.
Esperanza Cordero had my heart in six lines.
The classroom loaner copy of The House On Mango Street had a spine almost split in two, and the pages rasped when you turned them like they wanted to break free.
I told my mom I lost that book. I couldn’t bear to give it back.
My school clothes were new, but they didn’t look like the other kids’ clothes. I sat self-conscious in my sweater and my long skirt – the first day outfit I’d modeled in the dressing room when September sounded like crisp fall apples and a chilly breeze. But my classroom was still August-warm, and the magic of that first day outfit was wilting with my shirt collar.
“We didn’t always live on Mango Street,” the book began, and we were supposed to read the first chapter overnight, but the words came loose like the string in my sweater sleeve and I tugged at them both impatiently, revealing row by row.
“Before that we lived on Loomis on the third floor, and before that we lived on Keeler. Before Keeler it was Paulina, and before that I can’t remember.”
My street names were different. Ohio and North Main and Mistletoe. But I looked around at the kids in my class – kids that had never lived in an apartment, kids that looked at me funny when my birthday party was in a different living room than last year – and I felt like for once I knew something they didn’t.
They had understood the books we read before. Houses with playrooms and big backyards with their height marked every year just inside the pantry door. Moms that were at home with cookies after school. Every book we read they slid in like breathing while I got stuck on the what-ifs, every book we read was a riddle everyone could solve but me.
I loved the words, but they felt like looking into a window from far away, while the other kids were right inside the house looking out.
But when Esperanza talked about Loomis and Keeler and Paulina and the streets before she couldn’t remember, I was inside at the old dining room table on the unfamiliar floor. She talked with the grown-up voice of a kid that knew about busted pipes and dreaming of real houses and knowing how things go, and the rocking, rolling rhythm of her story kept me turning pages through class, through lunchtime, through the bus ride home. I finished the book long after my sister had fallen asleep and in the morning I started again.
Esperanza hadn’t just moved into a hundred houses. She had a family that whispered in two languages, and one of them I remembered from long mornings on my grandma’s kitchen floor. She collected grown up secrets and had a sister whose life overlapped hers in a too-small room.
And she had a story.
Her own story.
And she was proud and brave and smart and she knew things I’d always wanted to know, and in that too-warm sixth grade fall I fell in love with her without knowing why. I fell in love with the feeling of being inside, when I’d been looking through the window every day before.