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.
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.