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We Never Asked for Wings

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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.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published August 18, 2015

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About the author

Vanessa Diffenbaugh

12 books2,979 followers
VANESSA DIFFENBAUGH was born in San Francisco and raised in Chico, California. After graduating from Stanford University, she worked in the non-profit sector, teaching art and technology to youth in low-income communities. Following the success of her debut novel, The Language of Flowers, she co-founded Camellia Network (now Lifeset Network), a non-profit whose mission is to connect every youth aging out of foster care to the critical resources, opportunities, and support they need to thrive in adulthood. She currently lives in Monterey, CA, with her husband and four children.

Follow Vanessa at facebook.com/vanessadiffenbaugh

Follow Vanessa on Twitter @VDiffenbaugh

Follow Vanessa on Instagram @vanessadiffenbaugh

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,357 reviews
Profile Image for Dianne.
567 reviews934 followers
October 18, 2015
I wish I could say I loved this as much as I loved Diffenbaugh's "Language of Flowers," but it was a letdown. Superficial and "lite;" with a chick-lit love triangle, one dimensional characters, and a fluffy plot that wants to be taken seriously, but doesn't quite have the emotional core or gravitas to pull it off.

Just OK. Pleasant enough, but not memorable.

Thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for an advance reader copy of this book (my review is based on the hard cover version).

Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,191 followers
August 19, 2015
Vanessa Diffenbaugh in her second novel , covers some tough issues and the story is quite a bit edgier than The Language of Flowers . She focuses here on the realities of teenage pregnancy , parental responsibility, illegal immigration and bullying. In keeping with her nature theme which was flowers and their meanings in her first book, this one is wrapped around birds and their flights with analogies to human behavior.

In the past year I have read several books which focus in some way on questionable parenting and in each of those my stomach was in knots at various times in the book when I just couldn't stand how children were adversely impacted by mistakes their parents made . I felt the same in this story about some decisions that Letty Espinosa makes. I do believe in redemption and forgiveness but it wasn't easy for me to overlook Letty's negligence . I had questions from the beginning. Would Letty's children let her be their mother? Most importantly will Letty be able to take care of her children after all the years of not taking care of them ?

Her parents who have raised her two children have returned to Mexico and Letty is forced to become the mother she has never been. I have to admit that a part of me felt for Letty even though she was not a mother to her children for years and I ultimately thought that she made a good decision in turning over the care of her children to her parents when as a teenager, she clearly was not equipped to do so.

Diffenbaugh has done a tremendous job in exposing Letty's imperfect character . We know her thoughts and her doubts and her insecurities and her recognition of her mistakes and shortcomings but also know that she loves her children. My favorite character , was her fifteen year old son, Alex . He's smart , and kind and reflects what a great job his grandparents did but he's also conflicted about how he feels about his mother and wants to know his father . The inequities of the educational system, the brutal realities of bullying and the implications and effects on children caught in illegal immigration circumstances are brought to life in Alex's relationship with his girlfriend, Yesenia .

Some may think that the ending was too neatly wrapped up but for me it was a fitting end since the journey there was not without consequences paid for mistakes , no matter how good intentions were . I definitely recommend this book and hope that Diffenbaugh continues to write stories that are raw and real and that speak to our desires for making our lives better .

Thanks to Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine and NetGalley.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
June 28, 2015
Sometimes a story just grabs you, either for the plot or for the characters. In this one it was some of both, I loved the characters, their flaws, their hope and dreams, their struggles, but I also loved the plot. Young love, trying to become a mother for Luna, after a very long time when she let her parents raise her two children, Alex fifteen and Letty six. Loved Luna, her exuberance, her determination and her fun personality. Some of her antics had me laughing.

I loved this author previous novels but I feel that this novel is more tightly structured, that she has definitely matured as a writer. She writes with a light touch on some serious issues. The struggle for immigrants, especially undocumented ones to learn the language and to survive speaking very English. The constant fear of deportation. The bullying and struggles young people who are at all different or have physical challenges have in schools in so called less than ideal areas.

Loved all the bird talk, Alex, his grandfather and the feathers. The tie that will forever bind the pair. A very good story that flows well. Curious to see what this author tackles next.

ARC from publisher.

Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews603 followers
May 27, 2015
"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 paths all at once".

Vanessa Diffenbaugh's first novel, "The Language of Flowers" warms our hearts and teaches us
about the nature of flowers and our relationships ...a beautiful story about a young girl coming of age -- having spent her life growing up through the Foster Care

In "We Never Asked For Wings", Vanessa opens our eyes to the parallels between the habits
of birds in nature... and human beings.

Letty, 33, has two children: Alex is 15. Luna is 6.
The novel begins with them living in the Bay Area. One of the busiest freeways is in their back
yard. Their building is old... falling apart.
Grandparents Maria Elena & Enrique have not only lived with the children for 15 years...but raised them while Letty held three job. She was a teen- mom when her first son was born
and didn't know the first thing about raising a child. The birth father also was never
told of his child.

The grandparents are originally from Mexico. Although Letty was born in the US, the grandparents were undocumented. When Enrique goes to visit his sick mother - back in Mexico...(Orode Hidalgo), ... and doesn't return, Maria Elena goes looking for him.
Worried he may have not been allowed back in the U.S.
Maria Elena prepares food - stores it in the refrigerator for the children for when she is gone...
until she returns.
Yet, The grandparents don't return.
Letty, also took off to 'catch up with her mother'... to go to Mexico - for her first time -- to help
her mother bring grandpa back.
The problem is, Letty leaves the two children: 15 and 8 .....home alone - for days- which extend longer... their mother was in an accident on her way back home.

This story could have gone in 'many' different directions at this point. The reader is on edge.

I'm left thinking?
Will Letty die and leave these two children an orphan?
If she lives ... what type of mother will she be? Up until now... She has not been primary caretaker ever own children.
I was concerned about Letty's past history .. drinking and driving.... with two DUI's
I found my thoughts drifting - off topic- (angry)- that in California ... we allow drivers to
still have a drivers license after having 2 DUI's.
I admit... I had a hard time letting go of this thought... while reading this story.

Like Migrating Birds... who change direction ... after following the wrong path...
People do also....correcting past mistakes.
There is an old saying though.... "I can forgive, but I won't forget"

I was fully engaged with this novel... I liked it. I like it a lot ... Yet I struggled with
'forgiveness'. The theme of undocumented immigration - hopes - dreams- was powerful
And, Vanessa is a terrific storyteller.

Yet, I felt Letty, the protagonist, put her children in jeopardy one too many times to not have
been faced with more stiff consequences. It actually made me angry.
I understood the situation... yet... something just seemed off.... to let things go as they did. I felt a lack of integrity in parts of the storytelling.
Not once did a social worker show up. It breaks my heart when children are
treated as if they are 'little adults' ... (abandoned, or invited to 'drink' with the grown ups)
One time is too much for me... without punishment! So, for me...
I wasn't in love with Letty at any time in this novel. I might have been if I felt she did some sincere atonement (legal atonement... community service...etc. )

Having been a HUGE fan of "The Language of Flowers"...
and trust the authors heart - good she contributes in the world - NO DOUBT- I'll read
any book she writes in the future. I'm still a huge fan of Vanessa Diffenbaugh.
Yet... this story left me with an overall 'very sad' feeling. It brought up too many issues for me
that sincerely hurt. I live here in the Bay Area.
I once lived in a getto area in Oakland at the age of 4,5 and 6... after my dad died.
I remember being left home alone - at night - at age 5.
It's just not an easy thing to forget.

Although their were many redeeming qualities in this novel.. I guess I just wanted MORE
justice served.
Yet... I recommend this novel. Makes for an excellent book club discussion!!!

Profile Image for Erin.
3,094 reviews484 followers
April 23, 2017
3.5 stars
A woman that has a second chance to be mother to her two children, a young man in search of his birth father, a mother and daughter living under the shadow of immigration law enforcement. "We Never Asked for Wings" is everything a family centric fiction should be- emotional, a bit of romance, well written characters, fast moving plot and good writing.

I am looking forward to reading "The Language of Flowers" in the near future.
Profile Image for Amanda Patterson.
896 reviews272 followers
May 29, 2017
I can’t remember the last time I set aside an afternoon to finish reading a book. I switched off everything electronic and enjoyed every page of 'We Never Asked For Wings'.

I was a huge fan of Diffenbaugh’s 'The Language of Flowers' and I started reading this book as soon as I received a review copy from the publishers. I was hooked from the first line: ‘It wasn’t too late to turn back.’

Letty, a 33-year-old mother of 15-year-old, Alex and six-year-old, Luna has left her children. She is following her parents who have moved back to Mexico. She is terrified. Her mother has mothered Alex and Luna all their lives and Letty has never had to be a parent. When she returns to San Francisco alone, her son finds it hard to forgive her, and she has to find a way to forgive herself and make a new life for her little family.

This is a beautifully-written, sometimes harrowing story dealing with the problems immigrant families face in America. The characters are unforgettable – including the ones we never actually meet – and so well-drawn that I believed I would recognise them if I met them in the street.

In her first novel, Diffenbaugh created a magical story with flowers. In her second, she does the same with birds and feathers. And the second book is even better than the first. I think this is going to be my favourite read of 2015.
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
633 reviews349 followers
October 1, 2015
2.5★ It was just okay, and then some.

Disappointing as I really loved The Language of Flowers. The only character I liked was Alex but reading from his POV was too YA which is not my thing. Heck, most of the time it read like YA from Letty’s POV, and I’m just going to admit here that Luna annoyed me as well but that’s her mother’s fault. I kept finding other things to engage in while trying to read this and looking at other books coming up in my hold queues. Even drinking wine didn’t help. I had a glass earlier and was thinking maybe three stars but once it wore off so did my rating. I bumped it up because of the feathers and she is a good writer; just did not like this story. I’ve dropped out of the flock with my thoughts on this one I know.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,363 followers
August 20, 2015
3 1/2 stars. Despite its serious premise, my final thought on finishing We Never Asked for Wings is that it was a sweet story -- mostly good, but at times verging on a bit too sweet and superficial. The story starts quite dramatically with 33 year old Lettie abandoning her two children -- Alex age 15 and Luna age 6, both from different fathers -- in an impoverished part of San Francisco to chase after her mother who had left for Mexico to join Lettie's father. Because Lettie's mother had essentially raised Alex and Luna up to that point, Lettie was convinced that she couldn't raise them without her mother. But Lettie's mother forces her back to her children, and from there the story focuses on Lettie finding her place as a mother and Alex's efforts to find his place in the world. Given her past and circumstances, it's hard to accept how quickly Lettie turns things around for herself and her family, and this is the part of the book that was a bit too sweet for me. The best part of the story is by far Alex's journey, which really reads like good YA fiction, focusing on his relationship with his girlfriend Yesenia and his attempt to make his way in a new high school. Thematically, this novel deals with poverty, immigration, class mobility and parenthood, and the experiences of the characters are fairly dramatic. But I found that Diffenbaugh ultimately keeps her treatment of these serious topics at a fairly light level, resolving things a bit too tidily in the end. Ultimately, this was a good read but not one that was as affecting or engaging as it could have been given the set up and topics. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
April 7, 2018
What a fantastic story! I don't know how I missed this one when it was published but it is a great story and relevant to our times. Struggling Mexican immigrants trying to find a place in our society, raising their children as best they can, sometimes being able to carve out a new life, sometimes not.

I listened to this as an audiobook and the voices came through loud and clear, the fear, the love, the wanting and needing to do the best for themselves and their families. This book is all about family and loves lost and found. It also shows how strong relationships with grandparents and other family members besides just the parents can do so much to enrich and reward our children's lives.

I highly recommend this audiobook, it's a great one.
Profile Image for Suz.
1,158 reviews605 followers
August 26, 2017
This was a fabulous audio book. I do enjoy listening to lovely accents, and this lady knew her stuff. Spanish sounding and so authentic! This could possibly be a 4.5 star rating, but I am happy with leaving it at 5. I finished reading this a couple of weeks ago so unfortunately, this isn't a fresh review.

A young, selfish and careless young mother that has left the real 'mothering' to her own mother, finds herself needing to learn quick smart how to care for her children. Unable to cook properly or perform any decent mothering skills, her world is turned upside down overnight.

Poverty and illegal immigrants are a harsh reality, and I think this story was authentic, sensitive and real.

A scene that was quite harsh was one where a toddler drinks some bright coloured liquid mistaking it for cool aid - it was battery acid - my heart was thumping.

Loved the author's debut The Language of Flowers, and whilst not so top shelf, this is a solid book and one I'd recommend!
Profile Image for Jennifer.
350 reviews395 followers
August 11, 2015
Vanessa Diffenbaugh has found her niche in combining the stories of vulnerable people with the detailed intricacies of natural world. Flowers acted as messenger and metaphor in Diffenbaugh’s earlier work, while birds and their feathers keep the story aloft here.

I enjoyed “The Language of Flowers” and was excited to read this book. In “We Never Asked for Wings,” Diffenbaugh tells the story of a young woman who is forced by circumstance to finally be a mother to her teenaged son and young daughter. What could have been a book with a completely predicable plot and robot-like characters is instead nuanced and topical. With her story Diffenbaugh requires her readers to ask themselves tough questions, particularly questions pertaining to undocumented Hispanics in the U.S. and public school funding.

4 solid stars.

Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for a galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Melissa.
647 reviews28.7k followers
September 21, 2015
. . . the origin of our identity is love.

One of the best things about book friends is sharing a great story. Sometimes, they get you to read a book that you hadn’t planned on reading immediately and sometimes you end up totally falling in love with that story. That's what happened for me, with this one.

Letty broke my heart in the beginning. She was a horrible mother and just kept making one bad decision after another. It was hard to root for her and believe she would be able to pull it together for Alex and Luna, even when forced to. The screwdriver incident haunted me and was impossible to forget.

As Letty grew as a mother, so did my feelings for her. Despite everything, Letty did what see needed to, to give her kids a good life. At first, I wanted things to end up a certain way, but the way things actually turned out was so much better. The ending was PERFECTION and so was Rick.

The author's writing was captivating and so heartfelt. By the end of the story, I was happy that they had all grown and found strength in each other. I didn’t want to let them go.
Profile Image for Shelleyrae at Book'd Out.
2,489 reviews517 followers
August 24, 2015

Vanessa Diffenbaugh's debut novel, The Language of Flowers, was an impressive debut that captured my heart. We Never Asked For Wings is a similarly poignant and touching story.

We Never Asked for Wings is a story of redemption as Letty Epinosa picks up the mantle of motherhood when her parents decide to move back to Mexico. After years of benign neglect, she has to learn what it means to be a parent who is emotionally present in her children's lives while providing for them as best she can. Letty makes a lot of mistakes as she negotiates her new responsibilities but slowly she begins to find her feet, wanting the best life that she can possibly provide for her fifteen year old son, Alex, and her six year old daughter, Luna.

Meanwhile Alex is falling in love for the first time and Letty is terrified he will repeat her mistakes, sabotaging his dreams with a teenage pregnancy. Alex however is far more responsible than his mother gives him credit for, but in trying to help Ysenia, an undocumented immigrant, escape the bullying she experiences at school, he unwittingly puts both their futures in jeopardy.

We Never Asked For Wings explores social issues including single parenthood, educational inequality, poverty and immigration, and themes such as family, love, regrets and redemption. Birds and feathers are symbols of migration, patterns, hopes and dreams.

Sensitively and beautifully written, Diffenbaugh paints a vivid picture of a family struggling to overcome adversity and forge a stronger, united future in We Never Asked For Wings. This is a wonderfully engaging and affecting novel that tugs at the heartstrings.
Profile Image for Figgy.
678 reviews219 followers
March 23, 2016
You know the story, you’ve seen the movie, read the book.

Something happens to Mum and Dad, and the friend or sibling who has never been very good with kids becomes a sudden guardian, gets an instant family. They have their mishaps, of course, but together they work out their future, and grow to want to be around the people they were forced together with.

Only in this story, it’s Grandma and Grandpa who are suddenly gone. They decide to go back to Mexico, and leave their grandchildren to be raised by a relative who doesn’t really know them, and who doesn’t know how to look after herself, let alone a six-year-old and a teenager; the kids’ own mother.

They get off to a rocky start, to say the least, when Mum/Letty takes off in the middle of the night to chase after her parents, leaving the children completely alone and unsupervised for the better part of a week. Leaving fifteen-year-old Alex to look after his little sister, Luna.

The rest of this review can be found here!
Profile Image for Susan.
1,062 reviews200 followers
June 28, 2015
I was disappointed in the book. I know it is difficult to follow a wonderfully received novel like The Language of Flowers and the author even admits that in the Afterword but I expected more. It just didn't have the heart and soul that I wanted.

Letty is a young mother of teen-ager, Alex, and 6 year old, Luna. She has left the child raising to her parents, illegal immigrants from Mexico. Letty works in dead end jobs and has quite a drinking problem. The grandparents suddenly decide to return to Mexico and Letty freaks out. She abandons her children and follows them to Mexico. Her parents turn away and she is forced to be a parent.

Then we get the story of a woman who has turned her life around. Step by step she learns to be a better parent. She quits drinking and starts studying to earn more money. She finds a better place to live, supervises her children and meets not one man but two.

Still, the kids shop for clothes in the alley behind Goodwill. Money is still tight. Her son falls for a girl who is here illegally and has physical deformities that make her a target for bullies. Life is still hard.

The ending is then tied in a nice bow with problems solved and blue skies ahead. A little too pat for my taste. It's a nice story that touches on the problems of illegal immigration and the feathers of birds. If I hadn't been expecting so much more, I would have enjoyed it better.
Profile Image for Barbara**catching up!.
1,395 reviews804 followers
October 20, 2015
WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS is Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s second novel. Her first, “The Language of Flowers” was remarkable, clever, and memorable. It was a tough book to equal or top.

In this novel, Diffenbaugh explored Mexican immigration, teen mothers, and the feelings of the children of unplanned pregnancies. I felt she did a wonderful job showing the complex feelings of children born out of wedlock with no known fathers; also with their feelings of realizing their births were not planned and most likely not welcomed. Her protagonist, an unwed mother, Letty, was created unlikeable. I’m not sure if that was intentional. In Diffenbaugh’s last novel, she made her protagonist prickly, yet loveable. Letty is purely annoying and plain off-putting. That was a distraction for me.

I’m not sure if I would have finished the book, if not it being a book club read. I will say that the second part of the book was far more satisfying than the beginning. If she writes another, I’ll still get it and read it. I think she experienced a sophomore slump on this one.
Profile Image for Leo.
4,385 reviews408 followers
September 19, 2021
Vanessa Diffenbaugh's book "Language of flowers" is one of the rare book that both stuck onto my memory and struck a cord in my heart. Usually not common for me to get emotional but that book was special and I got it in my heart. But this book sadly wasn't as intensely emotional or emersive. Not a bad book but didn't love it as much. Maybe I had to high hopes for it
Profile Image for Anna.
916 reviews36 followers
November 9, 2015
As I started to read the opening scenes and chapters, I was thinking -- who are these crazy people and why are they doing these outrageous things? But the voice and style of "The Language of Flowers" resonated through the paragraphs as I kept reading, hoping to get to the turning point. Finally, it came and the real story began.

This story of family, relationships, and trust also illustrates some of the current hot button social issues we are seeing in today's headlines. It's a very interesting portrayal of ideas and putting a face on them. (I thought Letty's relationship with alcohol was very interesting and how it changes through the course of the story.) The author also raises the questions of what it means to grow up and what it means to take responsibility.
The use of feathers throughout the story is wonderful; they reflect different stages of the action and transform as the story progresses.
The ending is positive but not overly rosey -- there are still issues that will need to be resolved -- but importantly, the adults are making decisions with their children's best interests in mind.

Overall, it's a wonderful follow-up to the previous book -- Nicely done!
Profile Image for Gina.
1,168 reviews92 followers
September 11, 2015
This book proves that you definitely cannot judge a book by it's cover. I loved Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers and I expected to have many of the same feelings for this book AND it has such a beautiful cover! However, I was sorely disappointed. From the first pages with the descriptions of the bird feathers and the art I felt myself drifting away from the story. I immediately didn't like Letty, the main character and mother to Alex and Luna. In the opening of the book she leaves her teen son and young daughter home alone to follow her mother who has returned to Mexico in search of Letty's father, both illegal immigrants, who has gone back to care for his own ailing mother. My first impression of Letty was "What kind of mother leaves her kids home alone with no money or food? No one knew Alex and Luna were alone and anything can happen to them! They are only kids!" My question was quickly answered. Letty is that kind of mom. Pregnant as a teen, unable and unwilling to take care of the baby, her mother steps in and cares for her child while Letty takes multiple jobs to earn money for the household and then spends her spare time partying like she hasn't a care in the world. Then to top it off she has another child that she adds to the mix of her uncared for children. Letty doesn't want her mother to go to Mexico because of selfish reasons...she won't have anyone to care for her kids and now, for the first time in her life she will have to be responsible and Letty doesn't think she can do it alone.

I was just really put off by Letty's behavior throughout the book. She got Alex drunk. She continued to get DUI's herself. She basically didn't change. I know that the reader was supposed to empathize with her but I just couldn't. It would have been different if her actions had consequences but they didn't. Diffenbaugh was trying to make a statement about the plight of immigrants but she didn't do a good job of it. I just never connected with any character and spent so much time being angry at Letty that I never got into anything else important about the book. I realize I am in the minority with my low rating but this book just didn't do it for me. I was enticed by a pretty cover with a book that held nothing for me. Sorry this barely gets 2 stars.
Profile Image for Shawna Briseno.
388 reviews6 followers
June 5, 2015
ARC provided by NetGalley:
A beautifully written story, full of folk lore and rich in cultural references. This is a story of young love and loss, survival and moving on. As a teen mother, Letty distanced herself from her young children, instead letting her mother raise them. But when her parents decide to return to Mexico, Letty and the kids are left to survive on their own, both physically and emotionally. Letty must find her way to being a parent while at the same time struggling to make ends meet. And then there's her son Alex. A teenage boy who's used to taking care of himself, he finds himself resisting his mom's newfound parental influence as he enters his first romantic relationship. Although it didn't reach the same level as The Language of Flowers for me, it remains a compelling story in its own right.
Profile Image for Mary.
643 reviews
March 16, 2016
Like "The Language of Flowers", this book is exceptional. Letty is full of flaws, and watching her climb out of her pile of regrets, learning to care for and love her children, and herself, was truly an emotional ride. These characters were not just "well developed", they were REAL. Each and every one, from the tiny Luna to Carmela, the illegal immigrant. Alex was an inspirational young man, and his budding relationship with his father was really heartwarming. This book was not all sunshine and roses, of course, there was a lot of sadness, mistakes, and sorrows. The plight of the illegals in this country was simply and well told, without being preachy. The ending was read through tears and with goosebumps. I just know they were going to be alright. I'm already counting down to Ms. Diffenbaugh's next book. This is truly a must read.
88 reviews2 followers
February 25, 2016
This is a beautiful story of young love.
I enjoyed the book and did not want to put it down.
I highly recommend this one.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,155 reviews
January 2, 2018
This book started out making me angry. Letty had left her children alone and I start the book upset with her. This is the story of an immigrant family, their ties to Mexico and the immigration issues that keep them from becoming what they could be otherwise. It is a story of character growth and coming of age under difficult circumstances. I totally fell in love with the characters, especially Alex who shouldered so much responsibility. I loved the book - it touched me. I loved the characters and their courage during difficult situations. This is the second Vanessa Diffenbaugh book I have read and I loved them both. Her writing style is beautiful and she pulls you into the story. I highly recommend!
Profile Image for Aura.
774 reviews66 followers
November 23, 2020
I read Language of Flowers a long time ago and it is one of those books that I will never forget. Like in Language of Flowers, We Never Asked for Wings includes a main character who is wounded and/or flawed. Letty finds herself at 33 with a teen son and a six year old girl, tending bar and making wrong decisions. It would be easy to dislike Letty but Vanessa Diffenbaugh has a unique talent of making us, the reader, sympathize with people who have messed up. I really loved this book and I cheered on Letty as she finds her way as a mother and as a woman. There were lot of themes here I related to like family connections, making mistakes, forgiving yourself and immigration. Excellent novel.
Profile Image for Živilė.
269 reviews
March 11, 2022
Likau nustebinta kaip ši knyga man patiko! Pradžia kėlė erzulį, bet kuo toliau, tuo buvo įdomiau. 😊 Visai kitokie veikėjai, netobuli, bet savi.
Profile Image for Amy.
1,617 reviews136 followers
August 2, 2015
I really loved Vanessa Diffenbaugh's earlier novel, The Language of Flowers so I was so happy to see that she was coming out with a new novel! This one comes out on August 18th and I definitely recommend that you pick this one up!

This is a very different novel from her previous novel. We Never Asked for Wings focuses on motherhood, family, immigration and the American dream. I found it to be a really fascinating look at these things and it grabbed me right away. Diffenbaugh is definitely a great storyteller. The characters in this novel were so well drawn that they felt very real to me - flawed, multi-faceted and realistic.

I loved the exploration of illegal immigration through realistic characters - how being illegal 'feels' came alive for me. It gave me a more 'inside' view of that situation and ultimately helped me understand facets of it that I wouldn't have understood fully otherwise. I think the book really excelled at exploring what illegal immigrant families face every day.

The other major exploration of this novel is around family, particularly motherhood. The main character of the novel is a woman who has never really had to mother her children as she let her parents take the parenting lead. When they are no longer there to do so, she must figure out how to do the right thing and step up. The exploration of both her desperation and her love for her children were interesting. I found it difficult to be OK with some of her really bad decisions as a parent but it was interesting to see her work those things out throughout the novel. All in all, I think it was a great exploration of motherhood and redemption.

I also thought that this novel does a great job of exploring poverty and how poverty impacts so many aspects of ones life - education, transportation, access to information, and just day to day ease of life. The juxtaposition of the haves and the have nots is very evident in this novel. Diffenbaugh really takes her readers through the ins and outs of poverty in this novel which is another thing that I really liked about it.

My only frustration with the novel was the ending. Although it was fine, it felt a bit too easy for me. It just wrapped up so perfectly that it was almost too perfect. I wish it had felt more realistic to me. But, the story until then was fantastic so I can let the ending be just a small issue for me.

All in all, I really enjoyed this novel. Not quite as much as her first novel but I think this is a solid follow up! There is so much in this novel that will make the reader think and look at the world differently! For that alone, I think this novel is worth the read! Highly recommend!

NOTE: I was given this galley from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.
Profile Image for Sheree.
572 reviews106 followers
September 1, 2015
4.5 stars

It must be a daunting task to follow on from the success of a first novel like The Language of Flowers (which I adored beyond words.) Blood, sweat and tears were obviously poured into this story, you can feel it. Wings may not have quite the same charm as flowers but it's quirky with Diffenbaugh's trademark beautiful prose and take, on timely social issues. I couldn't put it down.

When Letty's undocumented parents abruptly return to Mexico, 33 year old Letty Espinosa finally steps up to 'mother' her 15 year old son Alex, and 6 year old Luna, a precocious child who would have even the Mother-Theresa-of-mothers, tearing her hair out.

The story alternates between Letty's perspective and Alex's. I cared about all the characters. The burden of responsibility on Alex's young shoulders made my heart ache. Letty isn't an easy character to like, she's hardened with a long history of poor choices and when those poor choices involved her children, I really didn't think I'd connect with her. But Diffenbaugh writes flawed characters with truth and compassion ... I was drawn in, I began to understand and empathise rather than judge. And then I cheered as she chose a new path and made changes.

"Migrating birds reorient themselves at sunset. The exact reason is unknown, but at twilight, just when the sun drops beyond the horizon line, birds flying in the wrong direction correct their paths all at once."

I liked the parallel between migrating birds and people correcting mistakes and their paths. And I loved the science and memory in feathers (who'd have thought) ... being a little cryptic here as you just have to read this yourself.

We Never Asked For Wings highlights not only the struggles for undocumented immigrants but the differences between the haves and the have-nots, poverty, education and housing opportunities, bullying. But, it also illustrates the innate goodness of people, the kind of goodness that restores your faith and ignites that little spark of hope.

It's a story about family and choices and finding your true place. Mistakes don't have to define you. Choosing a new path takes courage but brings hope for a different future.

“'I love it,' Letty said, kissing Luna's cherry lips and wondering how a half-eaten lollipop could somehow taste like a reason to stay.”

I think the ending would have benefited from a few more pages but I'm seriously crushing on Vanessa Diffenbaugh's writing.
Profile Image for Laurel-Rain.
Author 6 books235 followers
August 15, 2015
When Letty Espinoza took off in her car to stop her mother from going to Mexico, she had left behind her two children, alone in the apartment.

Hers had truly been an act of desperation. She had given birth to her fifteen-year-old son Alex when she was just a teenager, and her mother, Maria Elena, had taken over the responsibility of raising him. Letty worked three jobs to support the family, and when she had her second child, Luna, now six, she had hoped to try again to be a parent. But it was too easy to allow Maria Elena to continue in this role, and Letty felt incapable of the task.

Would she now be forced to try her wings as a parent? Before she could move ahead, though, there would be a final plea in Mexico, and then she would head home. But an accident along the way would derail her plan.

How would Letty finally learn to step up as a parent? How could she make up for her virtual abandonment for the past fifteen years? And how would Alex's father Wes change her plans for the future?

Obstacles arise with Alex and his new girlfriend, who has complex issues that none of them could foresee. Changing schools to improve Alex's chances for a better future might be just what he needs, but could it also lead to a gigantic misstep that would leave all of them floundering?

The characters in We Never Asked for Wings: A Novel were believable and easy to root for. Mistakes were made by everyone at one point or another, but the beautifully rendered story brought to light timely themes of motherhood, undocumented immigration, and how striving to reach the American dream can lead to unexpected outcomes. 5 stars.
Profile Image for Linda.
804 reviews
August 17, 2015
4.25 stars!

Migrating birds reorient themselves at sunset. The exact reason is unknown, but at twilight, just when the sun drops beyond the horizon line, birds flying in the wrong direction correct their flight paths all at once.

2 years ago, I read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and I loved it. I was thrilled to receive an ARC of Diffenbaugh's second book, We Never Asked for Wings. I was not disappointed.

I love this author's style! She has the ability to make you fall in love with the flawed and quirky characters she creates. The writing is beautiful! The pacing is perfectly done to allow time for the characters to creep inside your heart, and make you want to blow off whatever you had planned for the day just to live in their world and cheer them on- which is exactly what I did today.

In this novel, the author touches on subjects such as parenting, family, first-love, poverty and illegal immigration. While a lot to tackle in one novel, I found it to be very well done. This would be an excellent book club selection as there is much to discuss.

I would definitely recommend this book if you are looking for a thoughtful read that tugs at your heartstrings.

ARC provided by NetGalley

Profile Image for Karen R.
847 reviews498 followers
July 7, 2015
In reading the acknowledgements, it was revealed that author Vanessa Diffenbaugh had great difficulty writing this, her second book. Could she match the success of her first, The Language of Flowers? She spent arduous hours writing and researching, almost giving up on this novel that deals with some tough issues. Her hard work paid off. It is a heartrending story of desperation, hope, love and resilience.

Vanessa exposes the prejudices of poor Hispanic families who are struggling to make a better life in America in ‘We Never Asked for Wings’. It was an emotional roller coaster ride. I was angry about Letty Espinosa’s bad decisions and risks, even if made out of desperation and love, happy with blossoming relationships and kindnesses, saddened by burdens put on a teenage boy’s shoulders and temptations to do wrong. I felt compassion and admired the resilience of the characters even if I didn’t like them at times. A good choice for book clubs.
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