We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

In brief: Letty has never had to be a mum to her two children. Her own mother has done that. When her mother leaves them, it’s time for Letty to step up and take responsibility.

The good: It is a beautiful story, with hope and determination.

The not-so-good: Took me 50 pages to get hooked.

Why I chose it: Always meant to read The Language of Flowers, but never got there. Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for the copy.

Year: 2015

Pages: 299

Publisher: Picador (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Setting: California, USA

My rating: 9.5 out of 10

Who could resist the pretty gold and cream cover of We Never Asked for Wings? I’m a sucker for a good cover (particularly if it’s shiny) and combined with Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s name on it, I was really excited to read We Never Asked for Wings. I remember everyone raving over The Language of Flowers several years ago and I bought a copy (with the tiniest print known to human kind) but unfortunately haven’t yet read it. This time I was determined not to miss the boat and read this beautiful, moving story at the first opportunity. Luckily for me, I was on holidays at the time and could devour it in just a couple of days. We Never Asked for Wings is a moving story about Letty and her family aiming to rise out of poverty, equipped with nothing but love and friendships. It’s ultimately a sweet story with a hopeful ending. I adored it.

The story opens as Letty drives away from her children one night, chasing her own mother who has gone to look for her father. Her father, an illegal immigrant, has gone to visit his ailing mother but failed to return. Letty panics when she sees the letter from her mother – even though she is a grown woman, she needs her mother in her life. Maria Elena is the true mother to Letty’s children, Alex and Luna. Letty works and drinks. She’s not a mother – she’s never had to be and doesn’t know how. But…Letty’s going to have to take charge, starting now. Her children depend on her. Alex is a smart boy and needs more than the local high school can offer. Letty devises a scheme to get him into a better school, so he can have more opportunities. But Alex has fallen in love with Yesinia and isn’t keen on leaving her behind. Plus, Alex has discovered his father and brought him back into their lives. Add in a new colleague, Rick, to Letty’s life and things start to get complicated. But with love and some clever thinking, the characters will make it through the tough times to come out stronger.

It took me a little to get into this story because Letty’s not the easiest character to get to know. Full of her own insecurities, she’s reluctant to face the new challenges in her life. She’d rather drown in a bottle of booze, which is what I had trouble with. I really wanted to shake her and tell her to get on with it. Fortunately she didn’t need that and came to her own senses. That’s when I really started to enjoy the story as Letty starts to care deeply for her children. Alex, her son, is a delight. He might only be 15, but he’s a serious, caring young man with a (generally) smart head. His youthful love affair with Yesenia was so sweet and intense, I couldn’t help but smile. I was then gripped by the finale where everything threatened to come undone. Diffenbaugh writes with a great sensitivity regarding migration issues and it was fascinating to read from the migrant’s point of view (especially given recent events).

Letty’s potential suitors were both charming – usually I am firmly on a particular team, as the author tends to make it clear who will be the victor. Diffenbaugh didn’t do that – she offered the reader the positive sides of both Wes and Rick. I was torn, as they were both great guys who loved the family. (Although I think extra points could go to Rick for charming Luna, who is quite a bratty 6 year old. But then Wes went to great lengths for Alex…oh dear, I don’t think you could split them!) So who did Letty end up with? It’s not the main focus of the story, but I think what happened was just right, tying up the ends nicely and continuing with the theme of hope. Feathers are also a strong symbol here, tying together the themes of migration, memory and hope, but balancing nicely with science too.

We Never Asked for Wings is a sweet story with a serious side that will redeem your faith in the power of the human spirit. I eagerly await more by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – an author for the must read list.

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