Thursday, August 6, 2015

We Never Asked for Wings

Title:  We Never Asked for Wings
Author:  Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2015. 320 pages.
ISBN:  055339231X / 978-0553392319

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The edge of the mattress dipped as Alex sat down."

Favorite Quote:  "You made a mistake. One *** enormous, stupid mistake ... That's all ... Now get over it. Buck up and fix it, and if you can't fix it, keep going anyway. It's the only way to live."

Letty is about thirty years old and a struggling single parent to Alex and Luna. Until now, Letty's own mother has been mother all of them. However, now Letty's parents have made the decision to settle in Mexico, the home they once left behind when they came to the US as immigrants. Now, it is up to Letty to make a life for herself and her children.

A precocious, gifted fifteen year old named Alex. A sweet, innocent, and oh-so-young six year old named Luna. How could you not fall in love with such main characters? Especially if the book begins as their mother and loving grandparents essentially abandon them. The sight of a fifteen year old trying to be a parent and a little girl need reassurance is one that tugs at the heart strings.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh's beautifully visual descriptions of the Landing further pull me into the lives of these children. The visual nature of the descriptions - the birds, the squelching water, the rocks -  creates quite a picture of the Landing. The Landing is separated only slightly geographically from the wealthy Mission Hills but worlds apart in life style. The differences are stark.

Although the premise of loving grandparents and a mother abandoning two children is a shaky one,  the beginning descriptions and the engaging characters of the children make me put away my disbelief. I want to know why, and I want to know what happens. Unfortunately, the "why" for the grandparents is not explored in the book. That's a story and struggle of immigration that I want to hear.

My other concern with this book is that some things work out a little too perfectly. Children remain all alone for a week; not only do they survive but no one notices. A teacher who sees the potential in a child is willing and able to be a mentor. An absentee father comes into his child's life and immediately becomes a supportive, compassionate parenting partner to the mother. All seems to be forgiven without a word. A colleague/friend just happens to be wealthy and well-connected; he also seems to be perfectly willing to take on and resolve any and all issues that come up. Solutions present themselves, often too neatly packaged. The book loses some sense of reality and some of its ability to convey a true picture of the hardships of trying to create a new life for yourself in a new land.

My overall reaction to this book is also that it is very busy. The main plot is about immigration - Mexican immigration into the United States - both legal and illegal. The main plot then gets cluttered with additional story lines - the gifted fifteen year old, the drinking, the romances, the handicaps, the school, and the past. Underlying all of it is the metaphor of the migrating birds and the feathers they leave behind. There is a lot going on in this story. The story seems to flit between the different topics, never really letting the reader settle in with any one. Although the writing is very visual and arresting, the constant shift in focus is challenging.

The story is a challenging one to engage with but the writing creates some engaging characters and a wonderfully visualized setting. That makes me look forward to Vanessa Diffenbaugh's next book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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