Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Review: We Never Asked for Wings

Summary: From the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Language of Flowers comes her much-anticipated new novel about young love, hard choices, and hope against all odds.

For fourteen years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children—Alex, fifteen, and Luna, just 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.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh blends gorgeous prose with compelling themes of motherhood, undocumented immigration, and the American Dream in a powerful and prescient story about family. -- Ballantine Books

I absolutely loved THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh -- you can read my review here. I appreciated Ms. Diffenbaugh's writing and the way she created such memorable characters, and I couldn't wait to read her next novel. It's been about four years and her second book
WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS was released late summer. I'm not sure I enjoyed it quite as much as THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS but it was definitely a worthwhile read.

WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS tells the story of Letty Espinosa and her two children. Letty has always worked hard to support her children; however, she left the major job of raising Alex (15) and Luna (6) to her mother. When Letty's parents return to their home in Mexico, Letty finally realizes that she has to step up and be a mother in the true sense of the word.

Letty is pretty much clueless about what it takes to bring up her children. She is so desperate for her mother's help that heads to Mexico to bring her home... leaving behind both kids to pretty much fend for themselves. When Letty finally realizes that she has to choice but to act like a mother, she tries to protect her children by sending them to a better school, even if that means lying about her address. Things are pretty bad for Letty as she tries to balance work, managing a house, and taking care of her kids; and she is forced to battle her own guilt in the process. Fortunately, she meets Rick, a co-worker who wants to help her succeed both professionally and personally.

Meanwhile, Alex is forced to grow up rather quickly as he tries to not follow in his mother's footsteps. He tries to take care of his sister, keep his own life on track, and handle his first girlfriend with almost no help from his mother... and he finally gets to meet his real father. When Alex and his girlfriend try to make things "more right and fair" for themselves, they discover that the risk involved might jeopardize everything in their lives.

I enjoyed WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS and thought it was not only an interesting story but also a thought-provoking one. This novel has some very interesting characters -- I especially loved Alex and his girlfriend; and it really does delve into some relevant issues about immigration and citizenship. It touched my heart and definitely made many of the issues that undocumented immigrants face real to me.

I did have a slight problem with Letty's character. I understand her background and that she depended on her mother for almost everything when it came to her children, but I had issues accepting that she was that clueless... and that she could just leave her kids to chase down her mother. It was almost like Letty couldn't think straight some of the time. And then, once she finally accepted her responsibilities, she became so consumed with guilt and self-doubt that I found it a little annoying. Thankfully, Letty did a lot of growing up in the pages of this novel; and she did redeem herself by the end. I actually found myself liking her more and more as the story went on and even rooting for her to find happiness with Rick.

I always say that if a book can make me think, then it's a good one. And that's definitely the case with WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS. There is no doubt that this book touches upon some relevant social issues in our country as far as undocumented immigrants go, and it really got me thinking about what we can do with this huge and growing concern. (Needless to say, I have no idea!) However, it also touches upon some serious themes like poverty, motherhood, sacrifice, and love.

As a result, I think WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS would make a wonderful book club selection. There is truly so much to discuss from the plight of immigrants in this country to what constitutes being a good parent. There is a reading guide available with ten thought-provoking questions. Some additional themes you might want to touch upon include the challenges of being a mother, secrets, second chances, and redemption. In addition, there are many, many references to birds and flight in this novel which might be interesting to discuss.

WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS is an intriguing story about parenting that also touches upon some major social issues in our country. Highly recommended!

I received a copy of this novel from the Book of the Month Club.


bermudaonion said...

I agree - this wasn't as good as The Language of Flowers, but it's still worth reading. Letty was a piece of work.

ChaosIsAFriendOfMine said...

I really liked this book too and agree with your review 100%.