One of the Must-Read Books of 2019 According to O: The Oprah Magazine * Time * Bustle * Electric Literature * Publishers Weekly * The Millions * The Week * Good Housekeeping
“There is more life packed on each page of Ordinary Girls than some lives hold in a lifetime.” —Julia Alvarez
In this searing memoir, Jaquira Díaz writes fiercely and eloquently of her challenging girlhood and triumphant coming of age.
While growing up in housing projects in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach, Díaz found herself caught between extremes. As her family split apart and her mother battled schizophrenia, she was supported by the love of her friends. As she longed for a family and home, her life was upended by violence. As she celebrated her Puerto Rican culture, she couldn’t find support for her burgeoning sexual identity. From her own struggles with depression and sexual assault to Puerto Rico’s history of colonialism, every page of Ordinary Girls vibrates with music and lyricism. Díaz writes with raw and refreshing honesty, triumphantly mapping a way out of despair toward love and hope to become her version of the girl she always wanted to be.
Reminiscent of Tara Westover’s Educated, Kiese Laymon’s Heavy, Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club, and Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries, Jaquira Díaz’s memoir provides a vivid portrait of a life lived in (and beyond) the borders of Puerto Rico and its complicated history—and reads as electrically as a novel.
D az's strong debut memoir charts her poor, violent childhood in Puerto Rico and Miami and her bumpy transition from girlhood to womanhood. The book opens in 1985 in Puerto Rico, where D az's father, Papi, was a drug dealer and her mother, Mami, was an erratic personality who'd soon be in the grips of schizophrenia. Within a few years the family moved to Miami Beach, in pursuit of better opportunities. D az recalls that her parents were constantly fighting and uprooting her and her two siblings: "every new apartment would be smaller than the last." She writes about being a juvenile delinquent and "a closeted queer girl in a homophobic place," taking drugs, running away, getting married at 17, and being sexually assaulted. Her most gripping stories concern the women in her life: her angry maternal grandmother, who mocked her appearance; her paternal grandmother, who brought her joy and relief; and her mother, a "shattered creature" whom she watched descend into mental illness and addiction. A turning point for D az comes toward the end of the book, when D az details how enlisting in the Navy at 18 gave her the stability she needed. D az's empowering book wonderfully portrays the female struggle and the patterns of family dysfunction.
Powerful and timely memoir!
Ordinary Girls is not an easy read. It’s shocking, sad, and honest. Jaquira Díaz holds nothing back as she tells her story. But as someone who should not have survived, her story is also inspiring, a reminder that every voice deserves to be heard, that every life has meaning.
"We’re supposed to love our mothers. We’re supposed to trust them and need them and miss them when they’re gone. But what if that same person, the one who’s supposed to love you more than anyone else in the world, the one who’s supposed to protect you, is also the one who hurts you the most?" - Jaquira Díaz, Ordinary Girls
Born in Puerto Rico, relocating to Miami, and living in the projects, Jaquira suffers many abuses—at the hands of her family, her peers, and strangers. Her life is a daily struggle as she grapples with her place in her family, racism, and her own identity. She finds solace with her friends, her fellow ‘ordinary girls.’ It is those friendships that will give her the strength to eventually find a better path.
"Living with Mami meant we could never have friends over, could never have birthday parties or sleepovers like all those normal, ordinary girls. We were afraid our friends would find out about her madness, her drug use, her violent outbursts. So we kept it to ourselves, our secret shame, hiding bruises from teachers and classmates." - Jaquira Díaz, Ordinary Girls
Reading Ordinary Girls is like listening to a close friend tell the story of their life—a story you haven’t heard before. A story that shouldn’t be true. As you listen, it’s mostly chronological, but sometimes it weaves a bit, including pieces from the history of Puerto Rico, stories about other women with their own powerful messages, weaving the stories that make the author’s message complete.
So much happens in this book that is not included in the synopsis. So much that touches on current events—the lack of help for women struggling with mental illness, the challenging obstacles that queer women of color face every day, and even the insufficient response from Trump during Hurricane Maria.
"I know something about the in-between, of being seen but not really seen. I have lived there my whole life. I mean quite literally that I’m a child of colonialism, born into poverty on an island that was seized and exploited, first by Spanish colonizers, then by Americans. My family, although they’re also US citizens, are colonial subjects, and most of what we know about our black family is limited because of slavery. We can trace as far back as Haiti, but before then, nothing. Like most black people in the US, the Caribbean, and Latin America, our histories, our cultures, our people, were stolen." - Jaquira Díaz, Ordinary Girls
Ordinary Girls is an important story. One we need to learn from. We must find a way to help those who are struggling to help themselves. See their faces. And hear their voices.
I really wanted to like this book. I kept telling myself to keep reading and maybe, just maybe, it’ll get better. The storyline is all over the place and inconsistent.