We Never Asked for Wings: A Novel - Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Another thought-provoking summer read — what happened to the mindless drivel beach reading I am supposed to be doing right now? Honestly, I am starting to feel way too smart for my own good.


So, another deep read, caged in some beautiful language and a fairly swiftly moving plot, not to mention a wonderful, apt, title. I liked most of the characters in this book, and, for the most part, I cared about how they ended up, which, for me at least, is important. However, much like in her first book, there were many moments in this book that defied credibility, and I found these to be disappointing and distracting. For example, we are introduced to the main character, Letty, who is a single mother as a result of a teenage pregnancy (first child), and a drunken mess (second child, years later), but the author beats us over the head with the idea that the teenage Letty was a gifted, intelligent student. I can reconcile a teenage mistake, but not what follows, which is basically child abandonment and child endangerment (multiple times, including watching her toddler drink gasoline, and later, getting him drunk when he’s 15 years old). All of this comes with absolutely no repercussions for the protagonist. Where is child welfare? Not in this story. And no worries, Letty, Mommy & Daddy will raise the kids for you. I found it odd that despite their devotion to her, her parents never encourage her to get an education or make something of her life.


Sadly, I do agree with one reviewer who compared it to an old-school Young Adult “problem novel”. Back in the day, this story would have been a terrific cautionary tale after-school special. But seriously, I think Diffenbaugh is a terrific writer, I just question the thoroughness of her research, and the abundance of hot-button issues she is trying to tackle. When it came to the side story about illegal immigrants, she seemed out of her depth and overly preachy and political; it felt more like an agenda than a novel to me.


I’m not sure what the net result of this story is for me. Like her first book, I am getting kind of tired of the terrible mother stories. If the only advantage of reading about these women is to feel better about myself, I’m not sure that’s enough for me. Diffenbaugh is a lovely writer, I just wish she would get off her soapbox and give us a story more worthy of her talent.