We Never Asked for Wings, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, is a story about a mother and her children. Letty has all but abandoned her two kids, Alex and Luna, for the past fifteen years. But after her own mother, who had been taking care of the kids while Letty went out and partied, decides to return to Mexico, Letty is forced to step up and actually parent. Needless to say, it’s a rough transition for all of them, and the story follows the struggling family as they attempt to come together to survive.
In the acknowledgements section at the end of the book, Diffenbaugh says that this book was VERY difficult for her to write. Apparently she even gutted it at one point and started almost completely over. I say this, not only because I appreciate anyone who struggles and prevails, but also because I was genuinely surprised when I read about her negative writing experience. Any difficulty with story is not apparent in the novel. In fact, the book is actually pretty wonderful. It flows well, and I especially appreciated how quickly the plot moved, changed, and developed. Things HAPPEN here–things that you don’t even expect to happen. Diffenbaugh presents problems and then addresses them swiftly and completely. The story is balanced, with just the right amount of mystery, suspense, and resolution.
I also commend Diffenbaugh for her characters. Some (though not all) are so beautifully complex and layered. Intelligent and sweet Alex is especially wonderful, in my opinion. I so enjoyed watching his relationship with his friend (then girlfriend), Yesenia, develop. They are so earnest and innocent with each other, but also still funny, smart, and thoughtful.
My only criticism has to do with Letty. She is a very weird character. Even beyond the monstrously unsympathetic “I abandon my kids sometimes” angle, I just didn’t think she was a believable character. I couldn’t understand her back story or motivations, so she never seemed whole to me. It didn’t help, either, that her potential love interests (Rick and Wes) came across as one-dimensional story fillers, so, inevitably, the scenes of her interacting with the two men, which happen often, never felt authentic. Unfortunately, Letty ended up being a disappointing character all around.
Still, there is no doubt that We Never Asked for Wings is a satisfying read. The story moves quickly, the plot is unique, and the characters are endearing and engaging. I also think it is very comparable to Language of Flowers, so if you liked that book, you will probably like this one, too.