Prather’s Pick: A novel with a theme
I think there’s a theme in this week’s novel for adults, and although I haven’t been able to put it in words yet, I think there’s a message about birds and flight.
“We Never Asked for Wings” was written by Vanessa Diffenbaugh who also wrote “The Language of Flowers.” This week’s novel was published by Ballantine Books (2015).
It’s the story of Letty Espinosa who has been living at the Landing, a wetlands area at the bay, near San Francisco. For 15 years she has been there with her parents, Enrique and Maria Elena, and her children, Alex, 15, and Luna, 6. Letty was born in the United States, but her parents are undocumented.
As a teen, Letty led a pretty wild life. She had Alex when she was young, not even letting his father know that he had a son. She’s a community college drop-out with two DUIs to her name. Since her mother was there, Letty never parented her children. When her father hurt his back, Maria Elena told Letty that she had to get a job. Somebody had to support the family, and that included the relatives in Mexico, too.
So Letty worked three jobs. Most recently she has been working at Flannigan’s, a restaurant/bar at the airport terminal. While Letty works, Maria Elena takes care of the children.
Then one day Enrique went back to Mexico to see his dying mother, and he hasn’t come back. Maria Elena paid a coyote named Benny to see that her husband got back into the United States, but so far nothing. So one night when Letty gets home she finds a note from her mother. She is going by bus to find him.
To say that what Letty does next is reckless is an understatement. She panics. Letty has no idea how to get along on her own, mainly how to care for her children. She doesn’t think; she just acts. She whispers goodbye to her sleeping children, signs her name to her mother’s note, and starts driving. She thinks she will be back before her children wake up — mistake!
Letty finds Maria Elena at a bus depot, and she ends up driving her to Oro de Hidalgo, the Espinosa home. When they get there, her father is calmly sorting bird feathers. His mother has died, and he has no intentions of going back to the states. Furthermore, he wants Maria Elena to stay with him.
(Enrique collects bird feathers from dead birds. Some have been given to him. He sorts the feathers by color, species, and date collected and files them away. He uses the feathers to make mosaics.)
Letty says her mother cannot stay in Mexico. Who will take care of her children? Surely they will die. But her mother and father insist that she can do it. They lock her out of the house, and Letty is forced to drive home.
Meanwhile, Alex is having a time trying to get Luna up and ready for school. He’s used to having his grandmother take care of things while he goes to school and spends time with classmate Yesenia.
Letty does make it home — finally — and the reader follows the family’s struggles. Rick Moya and Alex’s father Wes become involved in the plot, too.
What makes this novel so interesting is the way the author weaves birds into the plot. At first, I noticed the beautiful poem from “In Flight” by Jennifer K. Sweeney. I noticed the tiny feather illustration at the beginning of each chapter, too.
Then, as I read more closely, I took note of Alex’s thoughts regarding the way migrating birds correct their flight patterns at sunset, a thought that Alex equates to his grandfather’s trip to Mexico. But there’s more: an analogy of the children sitting at the table, “like hungry birds, waiting to be fed” and Enrique’s “refusal to leave his perch.” And there’s more.
The book’s theme can perhaps be found on the last page.
This is a fascinating book with an interesting plot. It can be found at the Craig Moffat County Library with new books. It costs $27 in hardcover.
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