My grateful thanks to Katie Green at Pan MacMillan for a copy of Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s ‘We Never Asked For Wings’ in exchange for an honest review. It was published in hardback by Mantle on 10th September 2015.
Having had two children, but with no partner, Letty has always shied away from parenthood, relying on her mother Maria Elena to bring up 15 year old Alex and 6 year old Luna. Instead, Letty has created an unsatisfactory lifestyle of no-hope jobs, irresponsibility and alcohol so that when her parents return to Mexico she is suddenly faced with parenting after all.
A couple of elements initially reduced my engagement with the writing and I didn’t think I was going to finish reading the story. I found it hard to accept that, at 33, Letty couldn’t do the most basic household chores such as getting a simple meal. I’m also not keen on children and found Luna irritating. However, I think this says something about the excellent quality of the writing that Luna is as annoying to the reader as she is Letty!
I found that ‘We Never Asked For Wings’ appealed to me increasingly the more I read and as the characters developed and they became more three dimensional. It wasn’t long before I was totally engaged with the story and desperate for life to treat all the characters better. I ended up thoroughly enjoying it and actually quite moved by the outcomes. I think, as an ex-teacher, it was the life chances that are so shaped by the vagaries of education that Vanessa Diffenbaugh explores so well that hooked me. I found I wanted to rail against the unfairness of some people’s lives.
‘We Never Asked For Wings’ is a really interesting read, dealing as it does with some highly complex themes such as family, parenthood, belonging, identity and immigration. Many of the characters are striving to deal with their own identity – not least Alex who is at an age when knowing who his father is has deep emotional significance, and Letty who finally has to learn to be a parent.
I think ‘We Never Asked For Wings’ is a novel that takes a while to engage, but when it does, it does so completely.