Jaquira Díaz’s Ordinary Girls is more than a memoir. It is an awe-inspiring, middle-finger-waving rejection of the cult and culture of shame that pervades Latinx communities. It is an unflinching yet compassionate dissection of the pain, love, and violence that cast Díaz’s life in equal parts light and shadow. It is, above all, a monument to Díaz’s girls. For the girls they were, for the girl I was, for girls everywhere who are just like we used to be ... Because of the shame that keeps us silent and afraid, it’s uncommon to see Latinx writers grapple with the complexity of our loved ones in public ... As I read how beautifully Díaz holds the multiple coinciding truths of her family, friends, and even people who hurt and wronged her, my own fears dissipate slightly ... The most captivating piece of this memoir is Díaz’s refusal to let herself and her girls be shamed for surviving despite the odds ... Writing these girls into literature as their complete selves is an act of love ...Ordinary Girls is a love letter to the girls who have been stigmatized and silenced and hurt and left behind, to those of us whose families are both a source of incredible joy and immense pain, to all of us who contemplated dying more times than we could count and came back up for air at the last possible second ... And perhaps most importantly, Ordinary Girls is a reminder to keep surviving in whatever way we know how, so that we can one day write ourselves out of despair and into the people we could be—without shame.
The memoir is at turns gorgeously lyric...at turns harrowing ... at turns the memoir, perhaps at its most effective, is elegiac ... This book is like a family, in fact, in the best sense; Ordinary Girls welcomes you in, scares you, heals you, then turns you out to the world.
There’s nothing ordinary about Jaquira Díaz’s debut memoir ... Díaz is so focused on the madness in her life that she glosses over the process of how she eventually breaks free from it. We know, by virtue of her writing and publishing this book, and by the few flash-forward details she provides, that she not only survives but thrives: graduating from college, becoming a journalist and a writing teacher. But we never learn when the turning point occurs ... she does save herself, though we don’t get to see her in her moments of greatest triumph ... A skilled writer, Díaz is meticulous in her craft, and on page after page her writing truly sings. Her temporal leaps and switches in tense and point of view make the overall delivery both powerful and complex, although at times the writing feels a little too crafty, her technique underscored, keeping the reader constantly aware of the writer’s presence. Some flash-forwards are jarring and confusing, others feel gratuitous, and keeping track of the chronology becomes a struggle. But perhaps disorientation is necessary to convey the life of this ordinary girl who was forced to grow up too quickly and fend for herself ... This brutally honest coming-of-age story is a painful yet illuminating memoir, a testament to resilience in the face of scarcity, a broken family, substance abuse, sexual assault, mental illness, suicide and violence. It takes courage to write a book like Ordinary Girls, and Díaz does not shy away from her deepest, most troubling truths. She jumps into the writing of her story and gets her hands dirty, her heart broken, her spirit bruised.
Ordinary Girls will be treasured and studied not just for its testimony of survival, but also its stunning and refreshingly consistent strength of style. Every page shimmers with assuredness and the strength of somebody who has survived to tell this story but also knows that survival is a daily process ... Diaz is working on multiple levels, code-switching between a mixed-race culture (Puerto Rican and white), friends who dismiss any academic inclinations, and the very idea of who she can love and how she can love. A narrative about coming to where she is now from where she once was would be compelling enough. That Diaz tells her story with equal parts fear, regret, humor, and humility makes it one to treasure ... a fierce, beautiful, uncompromising memoir about survival, motherhood, love, forgiveness, and identity. It's harrowing with a purpose ... Diaz has managed to find that calm place between the personal and political, the attraction towards darkness and the unimaginably profound blessing of a survival instinct that her on solid ground. She might specifically declare at the end that this story is for the girls who believe in monsters, but there are miracles to be found on every page for every curious reader hungry for the lessons to be learned from a hard life. Here's hoping Diaz has many more stories to tell.
Jaquira Díaz’s Ordinary Girls reaches deep into your heart and seizes your emotions from the very first sizzling paragraph. And as it carries you into some of Díaz’s darkest shadows and out into variegated light, it refuses to let go ... In fiercely honest prose, Díaz turns back every page of her life ... The stunning beauty of Díaz’s memoir grows out of its passion, its defiance, its longing, its love and its clear-eyed honesty. Díaz’s story hums with a vibrant beauty, shining a light out of the darkness that shadowed her life.
Given the episodes Díaz recounts, it feels as though her entire life is something she could never come back from, and yet here she is to shepherd us through her story, somehow having made it safely to the other side — though she did, in fact, throw herself off a ledge in one of her harrowing suicide attempts ... Elements of this memoir have been published previously as standalone stories. Weaving them together here eliminates much of the chronology while establishing a sense of blurred disorientation. Years bleed and blend into each other. Episodes start and stop, or fade in and out. For the reader attempting to follow Díaz’s tumultuous teens and early adulthood, it’s hard to track when any of these events occurred in relation to any others. That feeling of dislocation is fully appropriate to the story.
... candid and compelling ... Díaz shares her journey of survival without embellishment and is unabashed about the lurid and painful details of her existence ... Díaz’s strength lies in how she can enliven the places she inhabits, from the seedy Miami streets she roams to sordid spaces she occupies. Her skillful weaving-in of several harrowing deaths that made national headlines illuminates some eerie similarities and connections to her life. While the story of a typical displaced girl’s life could have been tragic, Díaz takes charge, changes her trajectory, and tells a tale of an individual who ultimately triumphs.
... inventive ... Using flashbacks, shifts in tense, and other novelistic devices, Díaz weaves impressionistic vignettes about Puerto Rican history and culture into her story ... she withholds key dates and other facts that would have made it easier to put some events in context. However, the literary bells and whistles give her story a broader interest than many memoirs that are more solipsistic. This book isn’t just about the author’s quest for self-determination; it’s also about Puerto Rico’s ... An unusually creative memoir of a bicultural life.