ARC Review Book Review

ARC Book Review | Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz

Title: Ordinary Girls
Author: Jaquira Díaz 
Genre: Memoir
Published On: October 29, 2019
(Paperback on June 16, 2020)
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Source: ebook
Pages: 336

Synopsis:

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.

(All the trigger warnings.)

My thoughts

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.

Thank you to the publisher, Algonquin Books, for providing me with an advance copy.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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About the Author

Jaquira Díaz
Jaquira Díaz

Jaquira Díaz was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Miami. She is the author of Ordinary Girls: A Memoir, winner of a Whiting Award, a Florida Book Awards Gold Medal, and a Lambda Literary Awards finalist. Ordinary Girls was a Summer/Fall 2019 Indies Introduce Selection, a Fall 2019 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Notable Selection, a November 2019 Indie Next Pick, and a Library Reads October pick. Díaz’s work has been published in The GuardianThe FaderConde Nast Traveler,T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and The Best American Essays 2016, among other publications. She is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, an Elizabeth George Foundation grant, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Kenyon Review, and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. A former Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, and Consulting Editor at the Kenyon Review, she splits her time between Montréal and Miami Beach, with her partner, the writer Lars Horn. Her second book, I Am Deliberate: A Novel, is forthcoming from Algonquin Books. 

A Song For A Book

On Bookstagram I created a hashtag for when I include a song that reminds me of the book I’m sharing, #ASongForABook, I thought I’d make it a regular feature on my reviews, too.

Jaquira mentions many artists and songs throughout Ordinary Girls, and the reader can hear their influence as her story unfolds with a lyrical pulse. She mentions Lauryn Hill a few times, and specifically her album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, so I chose the title song to share here:

My world it moves so fast today
The past it seems so far away
And life squeezes so tight that I can’t breathe
And every time I try to be, what someone else has thought of me
So caught up, I wasn’t able to achieve


But deep in my heart, the answer it was in me
And I made up my mind to define my own destiny

I look at my environment
And wonder where the fire went
What happened to everything we used to be
I hear so many cry for help
Searching outside of themselves
Now I know that his strength is within me


And deep in my heart, the answer it was in me
And I made up my mind to define my own destiny

And deep in my heart
And deep in my heart, the answer it was in me
And I made up my mind to define my own destiny

Have you read Ordinary Girls? Did you add it to your tbr? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Wandering!

2 thoughts on “ARC Book Review | Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz”

  1. I haven’t heard of this but it sounds like an incredible read! The kind of book that has a deep effect on you, I love books like that. Definitely sounds like an important story to be told. Thanks for sharing, great review!

    Anika | chaptersofmay.com

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