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.
I really loved the author’s debut, The Language of Flowers, so I was rather excited and a little nervous to pick up her second effort. But We Never Asked for Wings was filled with the things the author does best – complicated families, humanising questionable characters, and showcasing character development through extenuating circumstances.
Letty, who is the central female character in this story, is certainly no contender for mother of the year. She has two young children, one from a teenage pregnancy, and flits from low-paying job to low-paying job and bouts of drunkenness or late-night partying while her mother and father look after the kids. However, one day her parents decide to return to their homeland of Mexico, and Letty is left to step up to the plate and face her responsibilities.
It’s an indication of the author’s talent that she can make us feel for characters even if and when they make bad decisions – particularly in the case of Letty, and her now teenage son, Alex. It’s a book about the relationships between parents and their children, and families in all their complicated configurations. It’s about the effects of poverty, and how your childhood circumstances so often determine the trajectory of the rest of your life.
The book is also a searing indictment of the way immigrants in the USA are treated, specifically in terms of their immigration laws, which many times lead to families being torn apart. It’s heartbreaking to read what some of these particular characters have to go through.
The laws of the land that existed to keep Letty safe, to give her a chance at success – even if they didn’t always work – those laws didn’t apply to Carmen. She was beyond alone. She was invisible.
Finally, it’s a book about second chances, the sweetness of new love, and the support of the people who surround you.
Free copy received from Pan Macmillan SA in exchange for an honest review.