A young Esperanza Cordero is suddenly forced by a plumbing accident out of the world of apartment-living to which she has grown accustomed, and into the world of Mango Street.
Though her family's new house isn't what she dreamed it would be, there's much to explore on Mango Street. Esperanza and her sister meet many new characters, like Lucy and Rachel, Meme Ortiz and his dog with two names, and Gil the junk store owner. Characters like "Cathy Queen of Cats" and the "Old Woman Who Had So Many Children She Didn't Know What to Do" lend the story a bizarre nursery-rhyme, Alice in Wonderland feel. (And did you notice that in the chapter "Edna's Ruthie" Esperanza memorizes "The Walrus and the Carpenter" from Through the Looking-Glass? Esperanza and Alice do have a lot in common.)
The little things that Esperanza has notice become more dramatic as she and her friends enter adolescence. The mood of the story grows increasingly dark as Esperanza recounts her experience of being forced to kiss an old man at work, and her observations of the ways in which Rafaela, Minerva, and Sally are mistreated by the men in their lives.
The threat of sexual violence that has lingered in the background becomes a reality for Esperanza when a group of boys rapes her at the carnival.
OK, here's where Esperanza's development deviates in a major way from Booker's "Voyage and Return" model. While Esperanza does dream of escaping Mango Street, she never actually does so in the course of the book. She envisions a "house of [her] own," but it's still just a fantasy at this point. And her escape, when it happens, won't be a return to her old, familiar surroundings, but a progression. So, unlike Alice who returns from Wonderland, Esperanza doesn't wind up right where she started, wondering if her whole experience has been a dream. Instead, she stands at the brink of her dream world, ready to jump in when she grows old enough and strong enough.
OK, so where does the return part come in? Well, Esperanza does promise that, when she finally goes away, she will ultimately come back for the ones she leaves behind. So The House on Mango Street leaves us on the cusp of a new adventure – a new "Voyage and Return."