We Never Asked for Wings
by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.
Longtime readers may remember my review of Diffenbaugh’s other novel, which netted a rare 4.5/5 star review. So it should come as no surprise that I jumped on the chance to read an advanced copy of her new book, out next month.
We Never Asked for Wings is similar to The Language of Flowers in that it deals with a troubled soul finally learning to cope. And it again has beautiful language and great storytelling. But that’s where the similarities end. Wings tells the story of Letty Espinosa, a young single mother struggling to make ends meet. Until now, she’s relied on her mother to raise her two kids (Alex and Luna). But with her parents’ decision to move back to Mexico, Letty finds herself suddenly in charge, in a way she’s never had to be before. A good portion of the book focuses on her struggles to learn how to be a responsible adult, then how to be a good parent, all while working, tentatively stepping back into the dating pool, and trying to realize the potential cut short when she got pregnant as a teenager. It’s understandably a lot to handle, and there are some missteps. I’ll admit I didn’t really like Letty as a character at first, because she was just so clueless about really simply parenting things. But she grew on me.
The other parts of the book focus on her teenage son, Alex, as he navigates high school, his first real crush, learning about his father, and helping take care of his little sister. He’s skeptical of his mother’s ability to actually be a parent, with good reason at first. But then she comes up with a plan to get them out of their bad neighborhood, and her kids into a better school. It’s a risky plan, but if it works it would life-changing for them all.
The balance of perspectives between Letty and Alex is nice, and gives an unvarnished look at what it’s like to be smart but poor in America. The picture Diffenbaugh paints of this drab stretch of land and bad neighborhood where they live is very vivid, and a bit depressing. There are some pretty great supporting characters- particularly a small family of undocumented immigrants who become very important to the Espinosas. It’s an emotionally charged book, but not so rough that it’ll make you cry.
This book officially comes out on August 18th. If you like strong contemporary fiction that doesn’t shy away from social issues, give this a try.