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We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa…

We Never Asked for Wings (2015)

by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

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2834739,844 (3.89)16

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I love how the author explores the struggles of certain populations without preaching. In her first book, The Language of Flowers, it was the foster care system, and in this book it’s immigrants, both legal and illegal. Her characters are realistic and the struggles they face every day can’t fail to tug at your heart.

We follow Letty as she is forced to step up as a parent when her mother, who has been raising her children, unexpectantly returns to Mexico. Letty, now in her 30’s, was an unwed teen-age mom, and she has few skills. How does she navigate the system to find affordable housing, transportation without a car, good schools for her children, and employment without child care, while living in soul-crushing poverty?

In her first book, the author weaves flowers and their meanings into the plot, and in this one she cleverly uses birds and wings. This book deals with some tough topics, and Letty is not always a sympathetic character. She makes mistakes, big mistakes, but like migrating birds who change direction after following the wrong path, so can people. I liked that Letty was realistic in that she didn’t magically change into Mother of the Year. Her changes are slow and she often takes two steps forward, one step back. There were times I wanted to shake her and call social services. However, I really liked her kids, Alex and Luna. Alex was an old soul in a teenage body.

I’m torn between rating this book between 3 and 4 stars. The writing is 4 stars, character development a 4, but some of the plot predictability and the love interests are 3 stars. She magically finds a cheap apartment in a high rent district. Why and how did a poor Hispanic girl living on the other side of the tracks keep a friend like Sara? Letty's alcoholism angle was dropped. Her love interests happened to be a doctor and a co-worker at the bar turns out to really be a wealthy guy who is rebelling against his dad. Really???. However, in this case the strengths outweigh the negatives so I'm rounding up to a 4.

**thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
( )
  janb37 | Feb 13, 2017 |
This story really reached out and grabbed me, and it was hard to put down for the first half or more. In the latter part of the book, there were choices that some characters made that frustrated me, so for me, that slowed things down a bit. But altogether, a good story. ( )
  mmreed | Feb 4, 2017 |
A compelling story of a mother and son who were willing to break the rules to make life better for someone else. Letty Esposito was just 16 when her son Alex was born; Wes, the father, was already gone away to school, and Letty never told him. Instead, she turned over much of the responsibility for Alex and his younger sister over to her mother as Letty tried to eek out a living at service jobs. She is currently a bartender at an airport bar near her definitely wrong side of the tracks home. When her parents return to Mexico, Letty finds herself struggling to take care of her children even as Alex seems to be moving away from her into his teenage love and life. She must also navigate her own emotional landscape as she connects with a new and old friend.

We experience the novel mostly through Letty and Alex: their paths have strong parallels as they act out of love, impulsive, without fully considering the consequences of their actions. They are fighting for justice so it seems as though their mantra is by any means necessary. Their "crimes" seem minor as they are committed to break down barriers keeping them from realizing their potential.

One powerful lesson in the importance of your address. In this story, as in real life, it determines your access to not just a good education but also a safe one. The students in those schools did nothing except be born in a certain zip code and, unless their parents are able to better their lot, they are trapped. Their poverty exacerbates the isolation as transportation is often an issue. Cars are expensive to maintain and public transportation enforces limits of time and space. As Wes drives Alex to Stanford, Alex muses on the fact that he had never been on the campus that was not far from his home.

I enjoyed the book and can recommend for its story and its concern for justice. There were times when it felt like a young adult novel. I don't think it's considered as such but Alex's voice was so strong and it was as much his story as his mother's.
  witchyrichy | Jan 15, 2017 |
I received an Advance Reader's Copy of this book.

This is a beautiful story about a young mother's attempt at redemption. Letty Espinosa was only sixteen when she had her son Alex. Now 30 and with another child, Luna, her six-year-old daughter, Letty is trying to do it on her own, without her mother's help. Her parents have decided to return to their homeland Mexico, leaving Letty to be entirely responsible for her children for the first time. She has support from her best friend Sara and her co-worker Rick, but everything is so tenuous. This is an interesting twist on the immigration tale, one to contemplate. A good book for book club, this one would generate a lot of discussion. ( )
  ravensfan | Oct 10, 2016 |
Many should read this story just to have a different perspective on child immigration and opportunities for immigrants to this country. The author did a great job on making me appreciate the qualities of all the characters and thus judging them less. ( )
  BONS | Sep 26, 2016 |
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The Himalayan legend says there are beautiful white birds
that live completely in flight.
They are born in the air,
must learn to fly before falling
and die also in their flying.
Maybe you have been born
into such a life
with the bottom dropping out.
--from "In Flight," by Jennifer K. Sweeney
For Donovan, Tre'von, Graciela, and Miles
And in memory of Sharon Renee Higgins, 1991-2011
First words
It wasn't too late to turn back.
Migrating birds reorient themselves at sunset. The exact reason is unknown, but at twight, 
just when the sun drops beyond the horizon line, birds flying in the wrong direction 
correct their flight paths all at once.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 055339231X, Hardcover)

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, now fifteen, and Luna, 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.
Praise for Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers
“Captivating . . . The Language of Flowers deftly weaves the sweetness of newfound love with the heartache of past mistakes.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[An] original and brilliant first novel . . . [Diffenbaugh is] a mesmerizing storyteller.”The Washington Post
“Fascinating . . . Diffenbaugh clearly knows both the human heart and her plants, and she keeps us rooting for the damaged Victoria.”O: The Oprah Magazine (book of the week)
“Diffenbaugh effortlessly spins this enchanting tale, making even her prickly protagonist impossible not to love.”Entertainment Weekly
“Compelling . . . immensely engaging . . . unabashedly romantic . . . an emotional arc of almost unbearable poignance.”—The Boston Globe

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 14 Apr 2015 01:14:46 -0400)

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