We Never Asked for Wings
The very first book I recommended at GreatNewBooks.org was The Language of Flowers. It was Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s debut novel and it had hit me hard – so much so that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s one of my favorite contemporary novels.
For those of you who haven’t read it, The Language of Flowers is about an 18-year-old girl who ages out of the US foster care system and, when left ill-prepared and without direction, falls through the cracks of society. Her best attempts at surviving and communicating how she really feels is through the Victorian era manner of creating messages through specific flowers. I loved Diffenbaugh’s first novel mainly because her characters were so real and the story opened up a world I’d never thought about before. It made me think. I couldn’t wait for her second.
In August, her second novel came out on shelves. I bought a copy and began reading right away. It took me about two seconds to become hooked, and within 48 hours, I finished the last page.
So what is this book? It’s one of my favorite books of 2015, We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.
I knew I should expect the story to be contemporary, based on young adults and their decisions (or lack of them). I guessed the story would involve poverty and social justice and topics which many of us don’t want to think about but need to. But the best part for me was falling into a story from which I couldn’t bear to leave until I knew what happened to the characters.
Reading a novel of Vanessa Diffenbaugh is like watching a movie with your eyes covered, peeking through the cracks of your fingers to see—just barely—what happens in the story. It was true for this one.
The main character, Letty, is a grown-up who never grew up. She has two children, one a teenage son who she had when she was barely a teenager herself. Her mother has taken care of everything concerning her children, until the opening of the book, when Letty’s mother and father up and leave their squat California apartment for their home village in central Mexico. Letty is so disturbed that they’ve left her that she follows them by car to try to convince them to return. In doing so, Letty leaves her children alone for days. The story follows her decisions and indecisions, how they impact her children, and how her children learn to find their way alongside their mother.
Sometimes when I read a book, I have to question what it is that makes the reader feel they MUST read on. I think it’s because we care about the characters so much, we can’t stop reading until their situation is resolved. Diffenbaugh’s characters are likable and yet so real, so fallible, that I found myself hoping that somehow, some way, they would find their footing and begin to live. I could relate to their internal questions – they’re of the basic human condition: how can someone survive when he or she has no guidance, no help, and no goal?
It is in this impossible scenario that Diffenbaugh grounds both of her novels. Her latest, We Never Asked for Wings, is one to start with for the chance to live a few hours down-on-your-luck and facing all odds. Their story and the chance to redeem mistakes is one you’ll never forget.
If you’ve read We Never Asked for Wings or The Language of Flowers, please stop by GreatNewBooks.org by clicking here and leave a comment about what you’ve thought. I’d love to hear from you (comments are closed here… I’ll respond at GNB). Thanks!