BOOK REVIEW: We Never Asked For Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

BOOK REVIEW: We Never Asked For Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Picador
September 2015
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

4/10

9781743536896

You know the story, you’ve seen the movie, read the book.

Something happens to Mum and Dad, and the friend or sibling who has never been very good with kids becomes a sudden guardian, gets an instant family. They have their mishaps, of course, but together they work out their future, and grow to want to be around the people they were forced together with.

Only in this story, it’s Grandma and Grandpa who are suddenly gone. They decide to go back to Mexico, and leave their grandchildren to be raised by a relative who doesn’t really know them, and who doesn’t know how to look after herself, let alone a six-year-old and a teenager; the kids’ own mother.

They get off to a rocky start, to say the least, when Mum/Letty takes off in the middle of the night to chase after her parents, leaving the children completely alone and unsupervised for the better part of a week. Leaving fifteen-year-old Alex to look after his little sister, Luna.

For six and a half hours – from the time he dropped Luna off in her first-grade classroom to the time he picked her up – she was not his responsibility. She could scream or cry or whine or say she was hungry or thirsty or tired and he would have to do – nothing. Not one single thing.

When Letty does finally come back, sans her parents, she decides she needs to get back into things, put her life together, be a grown-up.

You have your children. And they have you. In the quiet night, Letty made a mental list of all the things she would have to do in order to make these words ring true. No drinking and driving. No drugs. No going out after work. No sex with younger men – no sex, period. No sleeping late, no skipping meals, no leaving her children alone. No chasing her mother, no depending on her mother, no blaming her mother. The list went on and on and felt to Letty as if it included every single thing she’d ever done in her entire life.

But she’s incredibly selfish, and has an interesting way of reassuring her children that she won’t disappear again.

From the lit window on the third story, Letty saw Alex watching. He would take care of his sister. With a swift twist Letty broke free of Luna and started to run.
“Go home,” she shouted over her shoulder, but Luna sprinted after her, her short legs spinning in circles. Looking back, Letty could see the sharp bones of her daughter’s rib cage heaving in and out, the veins of her clenched fists bulging in desperation.

Letty ran faster than she ever had. Her only chance was to get to the frontage road that ran along the freeway and turn before Luna could see her. Not knowing the way, she would stop running and let Alex carry her home.

This woman really shouldn’t be entrusted with children, and it’s particularly hard for the reader to relate to her situation, given some of the things she puts her children through out of laziness, stupidity, or unwillingness to listen. She sets bad examples, and is surprised when her children follow those examples and adapt them to their own purposes.

The writing is decent, with some interesting and insightful quotables, but the writer has an addiction to the phrase “shook his/her head no” followed by words or actions that pointed out, for a third time, that the character was disagreeing with whatever they were shaking their head about. It drove this reader crazy.

The kids are the only thing that give this story hope, but even then it somehow falls flat. Somehow, with so many themes, this story manages to lack emotion.

Immigrants from Mexico, multiple generations, overcoming the odds, doing whatever it takes to get your kids into a good school, connecting with the father you’ve just met, young love, new love, trying to choose between new love and long lost love, and still it falls flat.

This is an easy book to get into, but lacks the uniqueness to make it anything spectacular. It’s the same story we’ve read and watched a hundred times before, it’s predictable, with a twist that doesn’t really change the formula.

 

I’d recommend this if you’re a fan of the sudden family formula. We Never Asked for Wings has some darker moments, with kids in danger and trouble, but has a conveniently neat ending, so it would be a good beach read.

BOOK REVIEW: We Never Asked For Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

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