We never asked for wings, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

You’re a clueless single mother. You had your two kids quite young and you’ve been working three jobs just to keep you all alive. While you laboured, it was your own mother who took care of the children, fed them and clothed them. What happens when she leaves you and travels back to Mexico all of a sudden?

Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s heartwarming new novel deals with several questions: Is experience a prerequisite for maternal responsibility? What if mothers weren’t confident about their vocation? Does that make them less worthy of motherhood?

Letty’s parents, María Elena and Enrique, travel back to Mexico, leaving Letty to raise her children by herself. As a consequence of this unexpected circumstance, Letty struggles to confront her situation and turns to alcohol, work and general absence from her home. Her children, six year old Luna and fifteen year old Alex, are also affected by the unforeseen changes in their lives. Moreover, as Letty attempts to build a future for her family, Alex reverts to his hidden past. He reunites with his biological father, Wes, whom he has never known his whole life. Things gets more complicated when Wes comes back home to set things straight with Letty and form a stronger bond with their son. Letty gradually feels her relationship with Alex slip. She is also caught up in a budding romance with a young colleague, Rick, while Alex forms a romantic relationship with Yesenia, a Mexican immigrant raised by Carmen, another solo mum.

I must admit that in the beginning of the story I disliked Letty’s character. I found it unbelievably careless for a mother to leave her children, but then I realised that whatever Letty lacked in maternal warmth she tried to compensate for in material provisions. For a single mother, basic survival would be more of a priority than emotional ties. Diffenbaugh’s novel, narrated in third person, presents a moving story of a mother tentatively getting to grips with the true essence of motherhood.

The motif of birds, apparent in the novel’s title, in Alex’s interest in collecting wild feathers for his science project and in the process of migration (both human and avian), is effective in that it neatly portrays the journeys one takes to achieve trust and express love. The story between Alex and Yesenia also provides a sympathetic insight into the lives of immigrants in the United States. This touching novel about ordinary people striving to fix and maintain relationships would make a splendid gift for all mothers.

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TITLE: We never asked for wings
AUTHOR(S): Vanessa Diffenbaugh
PUBLISHER: Macmillan
RRP: $34.99
ISBN: 9781447294498

Azariah Alfante Azariah is a writer based in Auckland. Extending her love of words to the realm of academia, she studies Hispanic language and literature at postgraduate level. She enjoys writing and reading fiction, particularly 19th century novels, historical and contemporary fiction, fantasy and short stories. She has a thing for grey clouds, cobblestones and second-hand bookshops.

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