We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Published by Ballantine Books
Letty Espinosa is a young mother who has worked multiple jobs at a time to take care of her family financially while her mother has raised her two children, Alex, fifteen, and Luna, six. When her parents decide to return to their home country of Mexico, Letty is forced to step up and be a parent to Alex and Luna for the first time in her life, while navigating her many jobs, trying to pay the expensive rent and bills in San Francisco where they live, and creating a future that she hopes will result in a better life for her kids.
I really thought this book was going to be too sad for me to enjoy. It starts off on a horrifying note – Letty’s parents leave overnight without warning, and Letty makes the insane decision to drive to Mexico to find them and beg them to come back to San Francisco, leaving her kids alone for DAYS. Reading these pages was torturous for me as Alex tries to feed and care for his little sister with zero support and zero money – it was heartbreaking. Thankfully, while things with this family take a while to improve, Letty does come to her senses and decides to mother her kids. Once Letty makes the decision to do this, the book takes a turn for the gorgeous.
The novel is essentially a book about growing up, in many forms. Letty is the center of it all – for her entire life, her mother has taken care of everything for her. All Letty had to do was go to work and bring home a paycheck, and her mom did everything else – cook, clean, pay the bills, take full responsibility for raising Letty’s children – so when her parents are gone, Letty has to learn how to do all of those things at once. Her determination to figure things out, to scrounge and save enough money to not only pay the rent but give her kids the clothes, school supplies, and the occasional treats they needed was admirable and so beautiful to read. The journey she takes throughout this book is nothing short of remarkable and it was such a joy to watch her grow up over the course of the novel.
Letty’s son, Alex, is growing up throughout the book as well. He’s a teenager when his mother decides to start mothering him, so he really can’t deal with her telling him what to do or even caring about him in general. Watching their relationship develop from barely knowing one another to hesitant friends to mother and son was so sweet and melted my heart. Letty made some mistakes with this relationship, sure, but Alex really stepped up as a son and as a crucial member of this family to work on getting things where they needed to be. Talking more about the specific choices Alex made would give spoilers but it was so clear that he made the best decisions he knew how to make and it was great watching him learn and grow from the (good and bad) choices he made throughout the book.
We Never Asked for Wings is such a gorgeous novel, one that I wanted to savor but I couldn’t put down no matter how hard I tried. These characters crawled into my heart and I’m still thinking about them. Diffenbaugh has an incredible talent for creating flawed characters that are so relatable you feel as if they are your friends by the time you’re finished with the book. This book is just so very human, and for that I adored it.