Book Review: We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh


Favourite quote
“Everyone has a unique story, unique interests-and these are what should drive your inquiries. So if you’re having trouble figuring out your area of interest, spend some time thinking about what you know, and what you love, and what makes you different. The more different you are, the better”.
Happy New Year, friends!
I apologise for my month of silence, I had a lot to deal with, both in my professional and personal life. I had very little time to read, let alone write reviews. Thankfully, I have a few days off! My first review of the year is of Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s second novel. Some of you remember how much I enjoyed “The Language of Flowers”, and that was the main reason why I bought a paperback of “We Never Asked for Wings”.
“We Never Asked for Wings” is a story of a family – grandparents, a mother, and her two children. The mother, Letty, works several minimum wage jobs while her mother, Maria Elena looks after the fifteen-year-old Alex and the six-year-old Luna. All of them live in a tiny apartment in the Landing, an area of San Francisco close to the airport. One day, Letty and Maria Elena vanish, leaving Alex and Luna to fend for themselves for a week. When Letty returns, she tells the children that Maria Elena has gone back to her native Mexico to be with her husband, Enrique. Now Letty has to be a mother to her children, in addition to being the family’s breadwinner. The role of a mother is a new one for Letty – from the day she’s had Alex when she was still in high school until the day Maria Elena left, her mother has held that place in Alex’s and Luna’s lives. The challenges Letty faces are tricky to overcome, and many of them are unexpected, yet strangely mirror her own struggles. Especially when Alex falls in love with a girl from school and Letty fears that she might end up with another generation of unwanted children.
Fed up with living in near poverty with children to whom she’s practically a stranger, Letty devises a plan to give them a better life. The plan involves breaking the law and might lead to consequences that could destroy the family. However, things seem to be going well for her children once the plan is set in motion. Alex and Luna are both happy in their respective schools, despite the fact that Alex can’t stop missing his girlfriend and has apparently found out the truth about his father – Letty’s high school sweetheart who has no idea of Alex’s existence. Will this discovery, together with Letty’s plan, bring the family closer together or will it tear them apart completely? How many lives would Letty’s good intentions ultimately destroy to the point of no return?
“The Language of Flowers” was unlike anything I’ve ever read before, majorly because of the language of flowers used as a significant plot device. Naturally, when I dove into “We Never Asked for Wings”, I expected to be once again immersed in Diffenbaugh’s unconventional writing and a gripping story. Diffenbaugh’s second novel has most certainly delivered on both accounts. However, it was also quite different from “The Language of Flowers”. True, it had some common elements – such as people’s passions being used as plot devices and tools for character development (flowers for Victoria, birds for Alex and bartending for Letty), flawed heroines who make mistakes and find help and forgiveness from the most unexpected sources (Victoria and Letty), and of course, the coming-of-age element (for Victoria and Alex). Whilst “The Language of Flowers” is a story of a girl who has little in her life beside flowers and they are what eventually saves her, “We Never Asked for Wings” is a tale of a dysfunctional family and the struggles each family member has to overcome.
Given Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s impressive charity work and the tough themes she’s explored in “The Language of Flowers”, it is no surprise that she is not afraid to tackle tough issues in her second novel. The issues I’m referring to are quite “hot topics” in the American news at the moment – undocumented immigration, parenthood and choices available to a woman, and treatment of disabled people by society. It is quite clear from her writing that these issues are something the author genuinely cares about, and novels like “We Never Asked for Wings” are a great way to make the readers at least think about them. I’ve stated this numerous times, and I’ll say it again – literature is one of the best ways to make people connect with those different from them, to make them consider different points of view, and to make them care. In the afterword, the author talks about how difficult it was to write her second novel, and I can easily see why, and I absolutely applaud her for the job she’s done with it.
“We Never Asked for Wings” is a story of a family, and primarily, of a strong woman who isn’t afraid to fix her mistakes. I definitely recommend it! My rating is 8/10.
You might like “We Never Asked for Wings” if you liked:
“The Peachkeeper” by Sarah Addison Allen
“The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender” by Leslye Walton
“Truly Madly Guilty” by Liane Moriarty
Have you read “We Never Asked for Wings”? What about “The Language of Flowers”? Would you like to recommend similar books? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

2 thoughts on “Book Review: We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

  1. Great review! I also adored The Language Of Flowers and reviewed it here on my blog:
    I said after finishing it that I definitely needed to read We Never Asked for Wings – but in all honesty I’d forgotten about it. I’ve heard NOBODY ever talk about it, and I just totally forgot it existed! But I’m glad you loved it and you’ve re-awakened my interest in it, so I’m definitely going to have to pick it up soon. Thanks so much 🙂

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