I received this galley in consideration for an honest review.We Never Asked For Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Published by Random House on August 18, 2015
For fourteen years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children—Alex, now fifteen, and Luna, six—in their tiny apartment on a forgotten spit of wetlands near the bay. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life.
Navigating this new terrain is challenging for Letty, especially as Luna desperately misses her grandparents and Alex, who is falling in love with a classmate, is unwilling to give his mother a chance. Letty comes up with a plan to help the family escape the dangerous neighborhood and heartbreaking injustice that have marked their lives, but one wrong move could jeopardize everything she’s worked for and her family’s fragile hopes for the future.
I have been waiting forever, it seems, for a second book from Vanessa Diffenbaugh. The Language of Flowers sticks in my mind to this day, so I was eager to start reading We Never Asked For Wings. Once again, Vanessa Diffenbaugh has created a family that is flawed and struggling, and I was captivated by their failures and triumphs. At the center is Letty, who is a character that you will want to dislike. She makes some monumentally poor decisions, like leaving her two children alone for a week as the book begins, and her views on motherhood were caught up in a vicious cycle that was fueled by her guilt about those mistakes. Her mother’s well-meaning enabling fed Letty’s belief that she was too flawed to be a parent. However, you will also see someone who loves her children deeply, but doesn’t know how to turn that love into action for her kids. That is really the core of We Never Asked For Wings. While there are some sub-plots happening that will draw your attention, Letty is the center of the book, and I found her struggle to be a mother and to provide, not just more material things for her children, but opportunities, extremely touching and compelling.
Clearly, Vanessa Diffenbaugh finds her writing strength in family drama. I love the way she confronts the extremely complicated feelings surrounding motherhood. It’s painful to read at times, but only because I think there is so much truth in it. While We Never Asked For Wings was so good that I could have easily read this story in one sitting, I felt that there may have been so much going on that some of the issues were given a light treatment. Alex and Yesenia’s story, for instance, could have been a book in itself, and while it was an amazing sub-plot, I wanted more from it. It scratched the surface of a lot of really timely issues, like bullying, immigration, and class privilege, but it really didn’t dive into those subjects the way I was hoping it would. However, Alex’s actions and their consequences did provide some of the most heartbreaking and tense moments in the book. The ending made me sigh a breath of relief, but as bittersweet endings go, it was more sweet than bitter. Many people will love the ending, but I thought it was perhaps a little too tidy. Despite those misgivings, I truly enjoyed We Never Asked For Wings. As a sophomore offering, Vanessa Diffenbaugh showed us another set of deeply flawed, but redemptive, characters. I think it’s safe to say that she has earned a place on my auto-buy list and look forward to reading her next book.