Saturday, October 24, 2015

519 (2015 #76). We Never Asked for Wings

by Vanessa Diffenbaugh,
read by Elea Oberon and Robbie Daymond

I loved Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers, so when I saw she had a new book out, I had to read it.

Once again Diffenbaugh deals with a number of social issues in her book: illegal immigration and undocumented workers and children, teenage pregnancy and single motherhood, bullying and poverty, and differences in educational opportunities.

Letty Espinosa is an American citizen born to illegal immigrant Mexican parents in the San Francisco area.  She was able to attend the better Mission Hills high school and was a shining star in science - but then she got pregnant.  She didn't want to hurt the chances of her equally bright Mission Hills boyfriend, Wes, and never told him she was pregnant, just quit returning his calls.  Ultimately Letty's life spirals downward as she drinks heavily, has another child (this one with an unknown father), and works as a bartender.  Her mother Maria Elena takes over raising her children.

This works fine until Letty is 33 and her grandmother dies in Mexico.  Her father Enrique, an artist who makes pictures with bird feathers, returns there but doesn't come back, and Maria Elena follows him.  Now Letty is left to raise her children, fifteen-year-old Alex, and six-year-old Luna, on her own.  Alex is bright like his parents, but doesn't have much of a future in the poor area where they live.  Neither does his girlfriend Yesenia, an illegal immigrant and daughter of another single mother, Carmen.

Letty gets a lot of help from her wealthy friend Sara and a fellow bartender named Rick to get her family moved into Mission Hills.  Alex thrives in the new environment, getting into an honors science class, having his project involving his grandfather's feather collection chosen for the science fair, and developing a relationship with his father.  Yet he is still torn by his concern for Yesenia back in his old neighborhood, and it leads him to trouble.

The story is told in third person from the viewpoints of Letty and Alex, alternating each chapter.  This worked especially well with the audiobook, as it was always clear who was narrating.  Actors Elea Oberon (Letty) and Robbie Daymond (Alex) have voices with just the right blend of youth and maturity to fit their characters.

However, in contrast to The Language of Flowers, I had trouble liking the characters in this book.  So many of them are either self-centered (Letty, Enrique, Maria Elena, Wes) or a bit unbelievable in different ways (Sara. Luna, Rick, Alex, Yesenia, Carmen).  Too many things start going right for Letty too quickly.  And for a smart kid, Alex does something really stupid.   Still, I am glad to have read the book.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and my local public library respectively.]

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