We Never Asked for Wings (Diffenbaugh)

We Never Asked for Wings 
Vanessa Diffenbaugh, 2015
Random House
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780553392319



Summary
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, fifteen, and Luna, just 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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—January 20, 1978
Rasied—Chico, California, USA
Education—B.A., Stanford University
Currently—lives in Monterey, California.


Vanessa Diffenbaugh is the author of two novels: her bestselling debut, The Language of Flowers (2011), and the more recent We Never Asked for Wings (2015).

Vanessa 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 The Language of Flowers, Vanessa co-founded Camellia 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, California, with her husband and four children. (From the publisher.)

Visit the author's website.



Book Reviews
Deftly blends family conflict with reassurance: Wings is like Parenthood with class and immigration issues added for gravitas.
People


[A] gripping, heartfelt exploration of a mother’s love, resilience and redemption.
Family Circle


Diffenbaugh is a storyteller of the highest order: her simple but poetic prose makes even this most classically American story sing with a special kind of vulnerable beauty.
Bustle


This poignant story will stay in readers’ hearts long after the last page.... Diffenbaugh weaves in the plight of undocumented immigrants to her tale of first- and second-generation Americans struggling to make their way in America. Moving without being maudlin, this story avoids the stereotypes in its stark portrayal of mothers who just want the best for their children.
RT Book Reviews


Satisfying storytelling.... Diffenbaugh delivers a heartwarming journey that mixes redemption and optimistic insight [and] confirms her gift for creating shrewd, sympathetic charmers.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. Maria Elena raised Alex and Luna almost as if she were their mother, even calling them “my babies," and yet she makes the incredibly difficult decision to return to Mexico and leave them alone with Letty. How do you think she justified that to herself? Do you agree with her decision? Why or why not?

2. The novel alternates between Letty’s perspective and Alex’s. Which did you find more interesting? Why?

3. From drinking heavily and working multiple jobs to leaving her children alone in the middle of the night, it’s no secret that Letty is struggling as a mother. Were you able to sympathize with her in spite of her flaws? How does Letty evolve as a mother as the book goes on?

4. Do you think Letty’s decision to hide her pregnancy from Wes was justified? Why or why not? What about the way she conceals Wes’s identity from Alex?

5. By dating Letty, Rick takes on a greater responsibility. What does that say about his personality? Do you find him to be a relatable character?

6. When Alex shows Yesenia Enrique’s feathers, he discovers a note that reads: “For my Alex, Make wings.” From Enrique’s feather art to Alex’s migratory project, there is a lot of flight-themed imagery and references throughout the book. How do you think it relates to the challenges the characters face?

7. Given the flight motif, why do you think the author chose the title We Never Asked for Wings?

8. Even though Letty slowly works to pull her life together, at different points in the novel she comes across as beaten down, and she often struggles with fear and self-confidence. At the same time, Alex is unwilling to accept that he (or Yesenia) deserves anything but the best education, no matter the risk involved. What do you think explains that difference in their outlooks?

9. "Yesenia was not a U.S. citizen. All her life she'd been here illegally, and she hadn't even known it. Alex didn't know what to say." Yesenia and Carmen reflect the reality of millions of people living in America without documentation today. How do their experiences in the novel shed light on broader social issues? Did you learn anything from the challenges they face?

10. Were you surprised by the way things worked out in the end? If you could change one thing about the novel, what would it be?
(Questions from the author's website.)

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