"Anyone can grow into something beautiful."
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, now fifteen, and Luna, 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.
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 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?