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Ordinary Girls

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“There is more life packed on each page of Ordinary Girls than some lives hold in a lifetime.” —Julia Alvarez

Ordinary Girls is a fierce, beautiful, and unflinching memoir from a wildly talented debut author. While growing up in housing projects in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach, Jaquira Díaz found herself caught between extremes: as her family split apart and her mother battled schizophrenia, she was surrounded by the love of her friends; as she longed for a family and home, she found instead a life upended by violence. 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 triumphantly maps a way out of despair toward love and hope to become her version of the girl she always wanted to be.

With a story reminiscent of Tara Westover’s Educated, Roxane Gay’s Hunger, and Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries, Jaquira Díaz delivers a memoir that reads as electrically as a novel.

321 pages, Hardcover

First published October 29, 2019

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About the author

Jaquira Díaz

7 books259 followers
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 an Indies Introduce Selection, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, an Indie Next Pick, finalist for the B&N Discover Prize, and a Library Reads selection. 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. She lives in Miami Beach with her spouse, writer Lars Horn.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 651 reviews
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,687 reviews14k followers
December 9, 2019
After finishing this book, I felt as if my emotions had been run through a shredder. Some people live such sad lives. From Puerto Rico, her parents fighting all the way, Jaquira, her two siblings try to make a new life in Miami. Everything, however, goes wrong. Her parents split, her mother turns to drugs and men, and then is diagnosed with schizophrenia. As you can imagine, things quickly go from bad to worse, with two young girls left with the responsibility for their own survival.

This is by no way a happy little story. It is hard to read about what happens to Jaquira, physically and emotionally. It took courage to write this book, to lay bare all she does within. Her honestly, her very survival is inspiring. Young girls who mess up again and again, lucky to be alive. Young girls who are not ever allowed to be cherished daughters. The young black and Latino girls that are already stereotyped, looked on with preconceived eyes. Thought to be a type instead of a person.

Her story jumps around, and sometimes it was disconcerting, other times a welcome relief. She talks about other women in the news, women who have done or are accused of terrible things. She doesn't let up in her telling, she's unbearably truthful and it is emotionally draining, but this young woman can write, and she had much to say.

ARC from Librarything.
Profile Image for Matt.
900 reviews28k followers
April 4, 2020
“We were the girls who strolled onto blacktop on long summer days, dribbling past the boys on the court. We were the girls on the merry-go-round, laughing and laughing and letting the world spin while holding on for our lives. The girls on swings, throwing our heads back, the wind in our hair. We were the loudmouths, the troublemakers, the practical jokers. We were the party girls, hitting the clubs in booty shorts and high-top Jordans, smoking blunts on the beach. We were the wild girls who loved music and dancing. Girls who were black and brown and poor and queer. Girls who loved each other. I have been those girls…”
- Jaquira Díaz, Ordinary Girls: A Memoir

When this book came to my front door, I did not know exactly what to do with it. Memoirs, you see, are simply not my thing. I have read several in the past – Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius comes to mind – and have been generally unimpressed. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I think it has something to do with the self-indulgence of such a project, combined with the knowledge that the author is typically trying to sell an idea or present a defense, all to their own benefit.

My half-baked, not-fully-cognizable anti-memoir stance is not specific to Jaquira Díaz or her book, Ordinary Girls. It is, to the contrary, a long-held prejudice, one that is so strong that I have not even gotten around to reading Ulysses S. Grant’s autobiography, even though he is a historical figure who I greatly admire, and even though his memoirs are ranked among the best ever written by a figure of his stature.

So, when Ordinary Girls arrived, direct from the publisher, I gave it a quick glance and set it on one of the ten bookshelves crammed into my office. And there it stood for a time, lost in a sea of histories and biographies.

For some reason, though, it called to me. It might have been the brilliant colors on the front cover, or it might have been the nagging voice in the back of my mind, the one whispering Try something new, but whatever the reason, I finally picked it up one day, just to read the first page.

After that first page, I couldn’t stop.

Ordinary Girls is a coming of age story of a young girl raised in the housing projects of Puerto Rico and Miami Beach. Her father was black, and a sometime drug dealer; her mother was white, and caught in the throes of schizophrenia. Díaz herself recounts a litany of struggles, ranging from the systemic (poverty, racism, sexism) to the personal (depression, drug use, and sexual assault).

The title of this volume is clearly meant to be a bit ironic, at least in the sense that Díaz’s life probably does not seem “ordinary” to a large segment of the literary-memoir-consuming population. To be sure, the experiences she’s had are light-years from my own. That said, however, having spent many years as a criminal defense attorney, and having represented hundreds of juvenile delinquents (many of them for years on end), Díaz’s experiences are not sui generis. Unfortunately, the drinking and the drugs, the parties and the fights, the live-for-now mentality that is pervasive when the future seems nonexistent, all are part of a narrative that could be told by many American youths. Few, though, have Díaz’s ability to tell this tale so well.

Unlike other, more notorious entries into the genre – such as James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces – nothing in Ordinary Girls feels false or outlandish or requiring of outside investigation. In other words, this feels true, at least to the extent that anyone’s memories can be categorized as truth.

Instead of resorting to confabulations or jaw-dropping set pieces, Ordinary Girls succeeds on the merits of its writing. Díaz is an incredibly skilled author, and her prose is consistently excellent. There are times when the book simply soars, every word landing with an impact, even as the lines seems to hurtle and careen forward at desperate speeds. Sprinkled with Spanish and slang and small detail, there is a real impeccability to every sentence.

In an odd way, the near-perfection of Díaz’s compositions work against Ordinary Girls. There can be emotional force in rawness, and that force is lacking here. While this may be honest, at times graphic, it is not raw. Rather, Ordinary Girls has been polished to a high sheen. Occasionally, it feels workshopped. The clever structuring, the way Díaz periodically bends the timeline, and the somewhat-strained entwining of real-world events (such as the death of Lazaro “Baby Lollipops” Figueroa) with her own, is a distraction. The messiness of the situations she describes is blunted as it is transformed into pristine art. Instead of feeling, I was marveling at the precision of every comma. Instead of getting lost in Díaz’s story, I was unconsciously dissecting her creative writing techniques.

Of course, saying that a book is too well written is akin to complaining about getting too much ice cream. It’s not really a criticism at all.

The real problem in Ordinary Girls is that it runs out of steam, and ends in a scattered and disorganized manner. For the first two-thirds, Díaz presents a gritty – yet sparklingly written – account of her youthful escapades, one that engrossed me. As things unfolded, I expected, at some point, to be treated to that redemptive, bridging moment, when she escaped the old patterns and rose above the streets. This didn’t seem like a stretch, since she is now a published author, and at some point, there had to have been a transition, an instant when she stopped running and settled long enough to use her gifts.

Instead of that moment, Ordinary Girls finishes with big temporal leaps, interspersed with passionate missives about Puerto Rican independence. Whatever else can be said about the closing sections, they feel divorced from what came before. If Díaz was attempting to connect her life experiences to the historical realities of colonialism, imperialism, and racism, she does not exactly square the circle. If she was attempting to do something else, then I plainly missed that point.

As anyone on mushrooms can tell you, the crazy thing about life is how we only really control one second of our existence, the second that is now. Thus, the overwhelming majority of what we call life is comprised of the things that have happened before. In that way, life becomes a story we tell ourselves and others. If I got nothing else out of Ordinary Girls, I have learned that Jaquira Díaz is a hell of a storyteller.

(I received a copy of Ordinary Girls from the publisher in exchange for an honest review).
Profile Image for Paula K (on hiatus).
414 reviews428 followers
December 1, 2019
Ordinary Girls is a debut memoir about living poor, making bad choices, and pulling oneself out of the culture of violence, drugs, and crime. Jaquira Diaz discusses her young family life in Puerto Rico and their try for a better world by moving to Miami Beach. With a history of a mentally disabled mother, sexual assault, depression, and finding her own sexuality, Diaz portrays the difficulty of a hard life and what it takes to try to make it better.

A fascinating memoir.

3 out of 5 stars

Published on October 29, 2019

Many thanks to Algonquin Books for the ARC of Ordinary Girls in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for Michael.
657 reviews968 followers
May 2, 2020
A vivid memoir sketching the author's coming of age as a writer and woman, after a youth marked by neglect, displacement, and violence, spent first in her working-class Puerto Rican hometown and then in Miami Beach, Florida. The first two thirds of this are electric. Díaz seamlessly embeds bits of cultural and social history about PR into her account of her childhood, and she has a real talent for capturing the nuances of her bonds with her father, siblings, grandmothers, and mother, who struggled with schizophrenia and often fought with her daughter. Toward the end, when Díaz recollects her early adulthood, the work sags, becoming repetitive and leaping around time in a way that's more distracting than anything; a tighter edit could have streamlined the book.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,686 reviews2,242 followers
September 7, 2019
4.5 Stars

”The five of us were the kind of poor you could feel in your bones, in your teeth, in your stomach. Empty-refrigerator poor. Sleeping-on-the-floor-until-somebody-threw-out-a-sofabed poor. Stirring-sugar-into-water-and-calling-it-lemonade poor. And then we’d take off again, like runaways. One apartment, and then another, and then another, never staying long enough to put up a picture, leaving while the place still smelled like the people who lived there before us.”

They spent her early years in Puerto Rico, living in housing projects, until her father decided that they should move to Miami Beach when Diaz was still in elementary school. Looking for a better life, which the parents couldn’t seem to manage to find for the family. The father’s dreams for the family shattering little by little as the money went for other things, buying / selling drugs. At the same time, her mother’s mental health is deteriorating before her eyes. Secret messages brought to her through the television. The only real stability she has in her family is found in one of her grandmothers.

”You learn that day that you will always remember your one bad move, that moment when you could’ve made on choice but made another, and what follows is your whole game falling apart, piece by piece, check, cross-check, and suddenly, when you’re fourteen, checkmate.”

Spending some time in a juvenile detention center, as well as Narcotics Anonymous, she left high school at 16, married at 17, and a year later enlisted in the Navy. She tells her complex and often heartbreaking stories in what feels like an effort to frame it for her own self, in a contained, controlled way, perhaps in order to more fully understand how her journey has made her the woman that she’s become. Likewise, as she’s had her own coming-of-age story, her own heartbreaking events that have scarred her, so her original home, Puerto Rico, has gone through changes, itself - its own fight for recognition and to be seen.

Themes include depression, frustrations, violence, family relationships, drug abuse, physical abuse, sexual assault, equality, sexuality, and mental illness, although there is little in the way of graphic descriptions of any of the above. This is infused, as well, with light, love and absolution.



Pub Date: 29 Oct 2019


Many thanks for the ARC provided by Algonquin Books

Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,055 reviews30k followers
October 29, 2019
Jaquira Diaz writes from her heart, and this is her story to tell. The best kind of nonfiction reads as fiction, and Ordinary Girls is just that.

Jaquira Diaz grows up in the housing projects of Puerto Rico and Miami. Her family is broken, and her mother is diagnosed with schizophrenia. Jaquira is seeking stability and some semblance of family. For comfort, she has the immense love her friends.

Jaquira shares her own personal battles with mental health and healing from sexual assault. The history and hurt of Puerto Rico is conveyed, and I learned so much from the deeply entrenched history of colonialism.

Don’t worry about Jaquira, though. With all the hardships she endures, she’s determined to come out on top.

Ordinary Girls is a stunningly-written, honest portrayal of Jaquira’s life. She offers insights and perspectives we don’t hear from often enough. There’s so much here to discuss, to think over, and also just to feel and connect to. I promise you, you will never regret picking this book up, and you’ll be changed forever by reading it.

I received a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.

Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,850 reviews34.9k followers
September 5, 2019
Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Diaz is a memoir about her childhood and adolescence in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach.

Jaquira didn’t have a cozy protective life. At a young age, Jaquira suffered from depression - attempting suicide for the first time at age 11.
As a sometimes runaway street kid with repeated juvenile crimes - she was a high school drop out.
Being, black, female, gay, and poor....Jaquira was very different from her white mother who suffered with mental illness and addiction.

Growing up, Jaquira’s friends were hood girls - vulnerable and strong who taught Jaquira about love, friendship, and hope.
But she also grew up around shootings and 14-year-old boys who carry guns while riding their bikes.

Jaquira loved books as a child because her father did. ( books being the best savior)...
but the parents divorce didn’t help family cohesiveness - safety- structure - or healthy boundaries. Papi was mostly absent emotionally and physically and her mother was severely mentally sick and addicted.

The writing included dialogue/stories - about her ‘unprotected’ growing years.
The impression of a dead baby being found in the bushes - and watching TV news about child abuse, child trafficking, child labor, drugs, violence, and homeless children of immigrants were memories she carried into her adult years.

Overhearing conversations and the TV news about the crime of a dead baby
referenced the murderer as
“the lesbian mother”....
Jaquira learned being a lesbian was part of the crime.

Jaquira had a lot of truth and understanding to work out....
she slowly found her way down a better path to a more wholesome life -
Proud to be black, gay, and female!

Jaquira said she wrote this book for her girls - her friends - the brown black girls - who were like her — who had brutal - self surviving lives as she did.

She and her friends are all women now - not everyone made it out of their tough childhoods - but most did.
Her friends are medical assistance, single mothers, and managers of business.

The message that Jaquira leaves ...
She wishes that she could reach back in time and tell everybody to take care of themselves to live and fight for each other to dance live and laugh.

The story of Jaquira is a sad one - but the non-linear
writing didn’t allow me enough time to emotionally ‘feel’ this story....
Yet...I applaud Jaquira for her strength and tenacity.

Thank You Algonquin Books, Netgalley, and Jaquira Diaz. Wishing Diaz many more years of well being and the valuable gifts received through ongoing writing.







Profile Image for Amy Imogene Reads.
882 reviews760 followers
July 8, 2020
5 stars

"For the girls they were, for the girl I was, for girls everywhere who are just like we used to be. For the black and brown girls. For the girls on the merry-go-round making the world spin. For the wild girls and the party girls, the loudmouths and troublemakers. For the girls who are angry and lost. For the girls who never saw themselves in books. For the girls who love other girls, sometimes in secret. For the girls who believe in monsters. For the girls on the edge who are ready to fly. For the ordinary girls. For all the girls who broke my heart. And their mothers. And their daughters. And if I could reach back through time and space to that girl I was, to all my girls, I would tell you to take care, to love each other, fight less, dance dance dance until you're breathless. And goddamn, girl. Love."

This is a searing memoir. I was utterly, completely, heartstoppingly captivated by Jaquira Diaz' words.

Diaz writes about her life, and the multiple lifetimes it feels like she has lived as, in her words, an ordinary girl. Her experience is singular yet representative, poignantly alone and yet surrounded by similar echoes of other girls' experiences. While the main story is Diaz's, the vibrating truth speaks for all the women intersecting with Diaz's voice and identity.

As a half-Black Puerto Rican child born to a Black father, poet and womanizer, and a white mother, hounded by schizophrenia and addiction, Diaz's life emerges into uncertainty and follows the fracture lines as her tale unfolds, spanning the family's early life in Puerto Rico and their move to Miami Beach, her parents' separation and Diaz's own struggles to cope with the constant cycle of change. And it's not just her tale that unfolds, but those of the girls and women who are facets of her life: her Abuela, her grandmother, her mother, her younger sister, her neighbors, her friends, her enemies, strangers on the street.

Through Diaz's words, all these women and herself and her community are connecting, spiraling, fracturing, unending. There are so many words I could use to describe the flow of the narrative but let's settle for hypnotic. That feels the most true.

What an important and showstopping debut. I look forward to whatever Diaz decides to write next—you best believe I'll be ordering it.

Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Blog | Instagram
Profile Image for Marialyce (absltmom, yaya).
1,909 reviews727 followers
October 24, 2019
There are some people's lives that once you hear their story, you wonder how could it be that they survived. Their story is so harrowing, so filled with tragedy and a life that is tarnished, agonizing, and traumatic, that it's a wonder how they rose to face the next day. Is there the intervention of God, is there a will to survive, or is it simply that the dice were rolled and it was decided they would live?

Jaquira Diaz for all intents and purposes had a hell of an upbringing, that is if you term it as an upbringing. Born in Puerto Rico, into poverty, her mother, eventually diagnosed as a schizophrenic, and an absentee father, made for a painful and terrifying childhood. They were poor, dirt poor, and so Jacqui became a kid from the streets.

At the age where other young girls were playing with dolls, Jaquira ran with the wild crowd, and why not for there was no one who seemed to care what she did or where she went. She was tortured by her brother who at one point punched her so hard that she had auditory problems that would persist always. Her mother was for lack of a better word was insane, sometimes taking her medication, but often she was on the streets prostituting herself for a drink, a drug, a cigarette, searching for the acclaim she felt belonged to her. Her father was a womanizer, who couldn't seem to be bothered to try and care for his children as he should. The one member of Jaquira's family who seemed to "give a dam" was her grandmother but even that care was fleeting and lacking.

Even when the family moved to Miami, Jaquira's life was in turmoil as she bounced from a place with her mentally ill mother, to her father who seemed to drift in and out of her life like a breeze blowing through, not seeming to care about the fate of his daughter. She would wind up in flop houses, on the beach or in a jail cell. She was to all a lost cause, a piece of dirt rolling though life, and one that eventually would be swept away.

Jaquira was wild, the drinking, the drugs, the sex, the quest for the next thrill, the next dare, the next time she would land in jail seemed to be her fate. This life was one we read about in the news. Her destiny seemed to be death at a young age, and a life ever so wasted. She was tormented by so many devils, never seeming to be able to climb above as the streets kept her pulled into the gutter and guaranteeing a young demise. How could she turn this all around and become an author? She was a child who at best attended school randomly, a throw away kid, not worth the time or even the effort to try and straighten out. Yet there were some who tried over the years that Jacqui ran on the side of danger and mayhem. There were friends, but many of them also were catastrophes in the making. With so much stacked against her, Jaquira seemed doomed and yet she had a talent and that talent was writing and as she pulled herself up and found the meaning of school and an education, she achieved what most would have thought impossible.

This was a harrowing memoir, one that had disaster written all over it, and yet the words and the stories seemed authentic. Many memoirs have that questionable element, but to me, this one seemed like the real deal. As I read the pages, my mind kept wondering how the heck did this girl survive? It is a testament to the human spirit and of course to Jaquira herself that she was able to journey onto a road where her dignity, her mind, her heart, and of course her writing has been allowed to trek. The only thing I sometimes found was that the telling was choppy, lending at times the reader to lose exactly where in Jaquira's life we were reading of.

I definitely recommend this story to those who are looking for a convincing and creditable story of a life that many would have thought was ended before it even started.

Thank you to Jacquira Diaz, Debra Linn, Rachel Gryder, First Readers Club, and Algonquin Books for forwarding a copy of this book to me. This book is due to be published on October 29,2019.
Profile Image for JulesGP.
404 reviews95 followers
March 23, 2020
This is a book about legitimate life battles, a memoir of a rebel not because she did whatever she wanted and bucked society’s preconceived notions of what a poor Puerto Rican girl should be but rather because she spiraled down the worst of paths and pushed through it all: addiction, self hatred, dysfunctional family, and poverty, even seeking out the dark hope of a successful suicide. How achingly painful does life have to be for a young girl to believe killing herself is a respite rather than a tragic ending?

But Ordinary Girls is not just a grim tale but a blatant fuck you to everyone and everything that stands in the way of not just the brown or the queer but women in general. The author hollers out in biting, lyrical sentences that bleed out on the pages. Sharp, tight language that tells of what the high and lows of growing up on the other side of Miami can mean to a girl simply wanting to grow up safely and have her dreams encouraged so that she can become one of those upstanding citizens our nation claims to want. But it’s not the adults that keep the author alive, it’s the “ordinary girls” like herself with their baggy jeans, big hooped earrings, and balled up fists of rage that keep picking her up.

Decades later, at a dinner with these ordinary girls, each living her own adult life, Jaqi, the seasoned journalist relives battle stories with them like war veterans thankful that somehow they made it to the other side, knowing others did not.

“What kind of girl, they loved to say. What kind of girl, even as they took what we gave, took what we tried to hold on to. Our voices. Our bodies. We were trying to live, but the world was doing its best to kill us.”
Profile Image for Fabian.
935 reviews1,527 followers
February 4, 2020
An exceptional autobiography that seems even more relevant as days of the White Majority inundate our heads, intrude upon our dreams...

"Ordinary Girls" seems like a lucky tome containing a turbulent life that was able to see the light of day. Here is a fighter--Jaquira seems to get away with visiting Hades and making a successful ascension to the surface. I relate--having lived in Southeast FL for two years. I too remember trysts at the lifeguards stations; and trips to Aventura mall; and sketchy people; and the fact that illicitness seemed to live shoulder to shoulder to virgin beauty. The Devil was there--Diaz basically reminds me that I TOO survived.

Loved this book!!
Profile Image for Shawna Finnigan.
436 reviews277 followers
Read
June 28, 2022
TW// suicide, suicide attempt, suicidal ideation, self harm, drug overdose, schizophrenia, physical/child abuse, cheating, and tons of other triggering content

I had to read a section of this book for a class and it was honestly so depressing that I can’t read any more of it. Check all the trigger warnings for this book and if any of your triggers are on the list, don’t read this book. The section of the book that I had to read left me feeling so depressed and triggered that I wish I wouldn’t have read it.
Profile Image for Margaret.
278 reviews168 followers
August 27, 2019
3/5

This is a memoir of Jaquira Diaz’s very rough years growing up in Puerto Rico and Miami. Her mother and her maternal grandmother are both diagnosed as being schizophrenic and are active drug and alcohol addicts for most of their lives. Her mother is madly in love with her father, but he is not faithful to her (or to most any of the women he is with) and so they fight bitterly and do not live together. Her abuela, her father’s mother, is the one steady adult in her early life. She has a brother Anthony and a sister Alaina. Anthony stays put with his father and their abuela most of the time, while the two girls go back and forth between their parents. Times at their mother’s house are brutal and chaotic. Times at their father’s house are much calmer and supportive. Anthony seems to watch out for himself much better than his sister does. (Alaina is much younger and seems to have no choice.) He refuses to live with his crazy mother. As a result of this and other sibling rivalries, Jaqui and Anthony fight bitterly over the years.

Diaz tells in great detail the hardships of her early life, of the beatings and abuse, and especially of the neglect. The young Jaqui is a heavy user of drugs and alcohol and is left to run the streets at all hours with her group of girlfriends and whomever else they pick up along the way. She is repeatedly in trouble with the law and juvenile court. This core group of girlfriends is the emotional center of her life. Some of them grow up and get beyond these early wild years; others fall victim to the harshness of their lives.

It’s clear by the very existence of this book and the news in the author’s bio that Diaz makes it out of this early horror of a life. She is bookish, like her father, and even though she cannot manage to stay in school (she gets a GED), she is in the honors English class. She has the skills but not the emotional stability to use them until she nears the end of her teen years. Even then she struggles to stay in community college, to stay in the Navy, to build her relationship with the young man who really loves her. The way she tells her story creates an even greater feeling of chaos as she returns again and again to yet another similar story of disaster. But she does succeed and becomes a writer and a teacher of creative writing. It’s clear several chapters were written as stories and published before they were included in this memoir. That’s not uncommon, but these stories are really repetitive and out of order. We know she will make it out, but we don’t get to see very much of that process. And that’s a shame because Diaz is a skilled writer and has a good story to tell. (Her list of writing credits is very impressive; she is a journalist and essayist as well as a memoirist.) Even at the very end of the book, she goes back and reviews the chaos of her girlhood. It’s almost as if she misses the excitement of her crazy past rather than reveling in her enormous successes in the present or in the process that got her from there to here. In the publisher’s paragraph on the back of the book, they compare this book to Tara Westover’s Educated. The parallel is there: two young women with difficult backgrounds make it out of their teens and live to tell the tale in memoir form. But there is that big difference too. Unlike Westover, Diaz doesn’t show us enough of the process or substance of her own considerable success. Despite my quarrels with this book, I admire Diaz’s skills and would gladly read a novel of hers, if she were to write one. I hope she does.

Thank you to Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill who gave me an ARC to read and review.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,323 followers
March 22, 2020
Ordinary Girls is a pretty raw memoir but I thought it was really worth reading. Jaquira Diaz was born in Puerto Rico to a Latino father and a white mother. Her mother and maternal grandmother were both schizophrenic and addicts. Her father has his own issues. Her paternal grandmother was a lifeline. From a very early age, Diaz lived an edgy messy life, first in Puerto Rico and then in Miami. Her memoir is not linear. She narrates experiences, feelings and observations, more or less in chronological order. By the end, she explains that she called her memoir Ordinary Girls as a tribute to her younger self and all other girls and women who have lived messy reckless lives -- they are all worthy humans and no one should be left behind. I liked the way she moved her memoir in that direction. I liked the writing and the rawness. It doesn't make for an easy read but it's well worth it. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an advance copy.
Profile Image for Katie.
511 reviews205 followers
July 26, 2019
“We were not the girls they wanted us to be. What kind of girl, they loved to say. What kind of girl, even as they took what we gave, took what we tried to hold on to. Our voices. Our bodies. We were trying to live, but the world was doing its best to kill us.”

I could not put this memoir down. Jaquira Diaz has lived many lives and experienced more tragedy than most of us could fathom. What struck me most about her memoir was how it’s punctuated with the murder of children, particularly the case of Lázaro Figueroa whom she refers to as Baby Lollipops. There’s an underlying theme, particularly toward the end, of regret that her childhood wasn’t what she wanted and needed it to be, and something else I can’t quite define—Gratitude? Wonder? Guilt?—that she survived while others did not.

Diaz’ life is full. It’s full of violence, drugs, sex, distrust, and loneliness. It’s also full of friendship and independence. These last two, I think, were necessary to break her out of the hopelessness caused by the rest. She needed parents who cared for her, and what she got was a mother addicted to various drugs and men, and a father who simply wasn’t present in her life. Neither of them protected her, so she learned to protect herself. This is most evident when she marries Chieto and later decides to join the Navy.

This memoir actually covers vast territory in just 300 pages. It’s about Diaz, but it’s not just about her. It’s about all the girls who have gone through (and are going through) the same things she did. It’s about Puerto Rico, the United States, and the history between the two.

While I’m amazed that this is her debut book, there are a few things that were difficult for me to work through. The timeline is hard to follow. Sometimes she’ll say something happened when she was 11, but in the next paragraph she talks about being 15. She jumps back and forth, probably trying to organize her thoughts about current events as they relate to her past, but this left me feeling disoriented. Often it feels like a lot of these stories were written as essays and they miss the editing between them to stitch them into a book (I read at least twice that she was a B-cup and don’t know why that was relevant. Having your breasts grabbed without your consent is uncomfortable no matter what size you are). The last chapter “Returning” was really confusing for me. There’s a lot of political angst that comes out of nowhere that I felt could have been worked into its own book. The thoughts don’t form a coherent story, they just convey raw anger, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that, maybe she doesn’t know, either. The end felt so different from the rest of the book it just seemed out of place.

It took a lot of courage for Diaz to write this and I hope that her words reach the people who need to hear them the most.

See more of my reviews: Blog // Instagram
Profile Image for Sue.
1,218 reviews512 followers
Shelved as 'didn-t-finish'
October 30, 2019
After completing 30% of this book, I found that the book and I are simply not well matched. Jacquira Diaz has quite a story to tell of her childhood and young adult life in Puerto Rico and Miami, with an unstable family life, a mentally unstable mother, and her own history of lashing out followed by ultimate success. But for me the story as written was just too disjointed to keep my focus and interest. So I will move on to other books.
Profile Image for Lauren.
1,342 reviews66 followers
October 19, 2019
I didn't think this was very good. Diaz' story is super compelling - growing up in Puerto Rico and immigrating to Miami as a child, a dangerously mentally ill mother, a violent brother. and struggles with her own depression. I think she'd have been better served by writing about the same material in a long-form essay and not a book. The book is very repetitive and after a while, everything begins to run together. something about the order of the telling also flattened out the inherent drama of the material - when she runs into her mother - homeless and sick - on the beach three-quarters of the way through, I was like - eh, ok, I've already heard about this, instead of feeling the shock that I should have had felt the narrative been constructed in a different way.

I feel like Diaz was under-served by her editor.

Also, I didn't understand how someone who identifies as queer never writes about her sexual relationships with women, except very peripherally.

Thanks to Library Thing for the Early Reviewers copy.
Profile Image for Linden.
1,427 reviews1 follower
August 2, 2019
When, as a child, Jaquira Diaz thinks, “There comes a time when we realize that our parents cannot protect us as much as we want them to, or need them to. There comes a time when we realize that we must save ourselves,” you know things are bad. Jaquira Diaz by her own admission was out of control. Her life was a never ending cycle of indifferent (or worse) parenting, street fights, abuse, drugs, arrests, alcohol, skipping school—all are detailed in this coming of age memoir. There are also friendships with her girls, which make things more bearable. She tells of joining the Navy and liking it, yet mentions in passing going AWOL, and finally deciding to go to college and study creative writing. She rejected numerous offers of help from counselors and teachers; as I read this extraordinary memoir, I was reminded that no one can make you do something until you decide to on your own.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,844 reviews420 followers
March 10, 2021
'Ordinary Girls', a memoir by Jaquira Diaz is extraordinary and powerful. Today the author is a writer, essayist, and journalist. Her work has been published in prominent periodicals. She has a MFA from the University of South Florida.

But about forty years ago, give or take a year or two, she was a juvenile delinquent, a wild child living mostly on the streets from El Caserío Padre Rivera government housing projects on Puerto Rico and later in Miami. She was someone who intentionally picked fights and beat up other kids, cut classes, finally dropping out of academic life in high school. She was frequently drunk and high, arrested dozens of times before she was fifteen, suffered rape and sexual assaults. Yet despite occasional adult interventions, she chose to return to the streets over and over, preferring the violence and partying over any other lifestyle.

Her father Papi was an educated black man, having studied at the University of Puerto Rico. Diaz learned to love reading books from him. Before Puerto Rico, his people had been Haitian. Her white mother, Mami, blond and blue-eyed, worked in an electronics factory, while Papi sold cocaine. After some difficulties, perhaps because of the drug dealing, the family - Papi, Mami, Anthony, Jaquira and Alaina - moved to Miami. Papi struggled to support the impoverished family, taking two jobs. Mami struggled with her emerging paranoid schizophrenia. Rising above their circumstances was not going to happen.

The family is surrounded by family and neighbors and schoolchildren and teens and street people wherever they live - also grandparents, aunts, uncles, hundreds of kids - some of whom Diaz has bittersweet memories of both hatred and warmth. Diaz moved constantly from place to place - with her parents, between her parents when they separated and divorced, and sometimes into the more stable houses of aunts or grandparents or friends' couches, and she often slept out on the beaches of Florida. She hated Mami's violence and wondered at Papi's lack of effort in taking charge of Mami even though he knew Mami was incompetent as a parent and murderously abusive. Diaz suffered starvation and Mami almost killed her in violent attacks many times. Yet Papi stood back and silently watched as Mami dragged her two young daughters out of their Papi's housing rentals to dangerous motel rooms over and over, leaving her son behind in safer hands of a relative who cooked and cleaned the apartments and children when they were there with Papi.





She is not happy with the treatment of Puerto Rico by President Trump or with the knowledge of past racist injustices such as mass murders of peaceful Puerto Rican activists committed by United States police. I am not either.

The narrative of Diaz's history is as chaotic as Diaz's actual upbringing. Within chapters, Diaz skips ahead in time and back into the past. She does not do consistent timelines for herself or her family. As she veers from memory to memory, from personal childhood incident to relating a relative's past to briefly disclosing some of Puerto Rico's history, it is only after reading half of the book I realized the author wasn't indulging in a literary torture-porn memoir of sorts. If she had told of her coming-of-age in a straightforward manner, readers would have been exhausted by the hell that was Diaz's life. As it is, the writing architecture is a mirror of the chaos of her past. It is easy to see how getting a grip was not possible for her as a young woman!

The spiraling hurricane which was Diaz's life trajectory is painful to read. She is not a person I can admire because of her choices of embracing violence and gang lifestyles or the self-destruction (current psychology would call it internalization I think, but I am not a psychiatric professional). I have seen these types of kids and adults in the streets and in families, my own included, but I went in another direction. Violence and drugs sickened me. The people and partying with which she surrounded herself constantly caused me intense claustrophobic sensations in reading about it on the page. And they ALL satiate themselves in self-engineered violence. But she was very lucky, and is clearly very smart, and she has more empathy for her family than I believe I could have mustered up.

I suspect, gentle reader, you will have all kinds of reactions as I did when I finished 'Ordinary Girls'. This is an extremely provocative bildungsroman (although it is a non-fiction memoir) even if the transition from a budding Scarface-like aggressive child to a reflective sympathetic adult as it appears Diaz now is, is missing. Comment below.

I still hate my long-dead addicted and mentally-ill violent parents.
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,378 reviews2,182 followers
October 28, 2020
Jaquira Diaz’s memoir Ordinary Girls is beautifully written, strong, raw and deeply honest.

I really struggled to write a review for this book because it was so all encompassing and left me emotionally raw. I could not put into words how reading of Diaz’s life affected me and how upsetting to read the mother and daughter relationship.

Starting in Puerto Rico and moving to the US, Diaz’s walks us through her family dynamic which is filled with “things we don’t talk about”, trauma, abuse, mental illness and struggle. There are some moments in the book that really stood out to me, see below the quotes.

My Grandmother was the first person to ever call me nigger

Papi was never home. He’d brought us from Puerto Rico in search of a better life, had left behind his life as a hustler, his penthouse apartment, his cars and properties, to work two jobs. One at a factory and the other as a security guard.

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?

When I turned eighteen, I would cover the tattoo with rose. Almost a decade later, a friend who’d spent five years in lockup would tell me that in prison, a rose tattoo meant you’d spent a birthday behind bars.

Puerto Rico, seized, exploited, first by the Spanish colonizers, then by Americans who conferred citizenship to Puerto Ricans only so they could be drafted into military service during World War 1, but didn’t allow us the same voting right as other US Citizens

The Puerto Rican women sterilized by the American Government without their consent.

In her review Diaz said, This is who I write about and who I write for. For the girls who are angry and lost. For the girls who never saw themselves in books. For the ordinary girls. Please go read it.

Thanks Algonquin for this book.
Profile Image for Sam Sattler.
966 reviews39 followers
August 19, 2019
That Jaquira Díaz is a survivor cannot be argued. The odds that Díaz would be able to turn her life around as dramatically as she seems to have done had to have been pretty heavily stacked against her when she was growing up in housing projects in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach. Compounding Díaz’s problems, her mother battled schizophrenia all her life, her maternal grandmother was mentally unstable, and Díaz herself had to battle depression so bad that it led to multiple suicide attempts on her part. But survive, she did, and now she is telling the world all about it in Ordinary Girls: A Memoir.

So how did she do it? A big part of the story is that Díaz’s love of books and stories not only helped her to survive a childhood largely spent drinking, drugging, and fighting on the streets and beaches of Miami with her friends, but also offered her the career path she has embraced as an adult. Her father may have not always been there for Díaz – and he regularly failed to protect her from her mother’s destructive behavior – but he was a man who loved books and reading. Reading her father’s books made Díaz feel closer to him despite his shortcomings, and even during the most chaotic and lowest periods of her adolescence, she never lost the desire to turn herself into a writer.

But it wasn’t easy to get there.

Díaz tells us that she was a runner, someone who ran from her problems rather than facing them head on. Damn the consequences. Whenever the combination of circumstances and depression reached an unbearable pitch, she walked away from good jobs, from marriage to a man who wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, from a promising stint with the U.S. Navy, from school, from her family, and from anyone else who tried to help her. The problem was that she almost always ran in the wrong direction. Díaz did, though, have a loyal core of friends - those “ordinary girls” of the book’s title - whom she counted on to get her through just one more day or night every time she couldn’t do it on her own . And they did just that.

Despite being an avowed feminist and social warrior, Díaz and her friends seem to have completely embraced the Hip Hop lifestyle during their teen years, a lifestyle that (at least from the outside looking in) is the antitheses of feminism. She and her friends knew the lyrics to dozens of rap songs and took great joy in singing them together, but still seemed surprised when anything akin to those lyrics intruded on their real world. Sexual violence, drug and alcohol abuse, a mentally ill mother, a largely absent father (even when he was there), violent fights with other girls, and arrests and court appearances were all part of Diaz’s adolescence. Her solution was usually to run from one bad decision to the next.

Yes, the odds were stacked against her, but she made it. I only wish I knew what finally turned her around for good and how it happened, but that is a frustrating thing about Ordinary Girls. Diaz doesn’t really tell us what finally did it for her other than suggesting that her childhood friends were instrumental in making it possible for her to become who she is today. I don’t doubt that for a minute, but I am disappointed that she did not share more about the rest of her life with us. About the closest thing we get is one three-sentence paragraph in which Díaz mentions college, graduate school, editing a magazine, teaching, working as a financial aid counselor, and taking care of her paternal grandmother - with exactly this much detail.

All of that has the makings of a second memoir, so perhaps that is the plan. If not, opportunity lost.

Copy provided by Algonquin Books for review purposes
Profile Image for Andrea.
890 reviews70 followers
July 23, 2019
I really enjoyed this memoir. Jaquira Díaz had an interesting life—first as a child in Puerto Rico and then as a teen in Miami. ORDINARY GIRLS is about relationships—mother/daughter, father/daughter, sister/sister and brother, and friends. These relationships have a lot to do with who Ms. Díaz eventually becomes. It was easy to empathize with the author when she described her life. I was impressed with how well connected she stayed with people and places from her past.

My only issue with the book was that sometimes the non-linear format confused me a little. I think the book works on the whole but it did throw me off a bit.

I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for a review.
Profile Image for CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian.
1,103 reviews1,322 followers
April 14, 2020
I am not sure how to talk about this book. Jaquira Diaz can write, that is for sure. She is very talented at setting a scene and adding details to create a sense of immediacy. But I found so much of this memoir upsetting that I almost wished she wasn't so good at making it feel like you are right there. Extreme parental neglect, emotional and physical abuse at the hands of parents, rape, drug use, suicide attempts, mental illness. It was a very hard book for me to read. I found myself dreading going back to it. Glimmers of queerness and an aptitude for writing were the only light.
Profile Image for BookNightOwl.
963 reviews165 followers
October 26, 2021
I love when i come across a memoir and love when I pick it up and it tells you a story of somebody else's life that I would have such a hard time telling. Kiddos for this author and letting us know her struggles until her triumphs. Diaz grew up in poverty with a mother who was mentally ill and a father who was never there. She basically used the streets to survive. Until that one day she decides she is going to change her life around. Thank you for telling us your story.
Profile Image for Lorna.
632 reviews338 followers
July 14, 2020
Ordinary Girls was a stunning and beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking memoir by Jaquira Diaz growing up in the projects in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach, Florida. Diaz's father is black and his mother created a safe and nurturing place for her family, her beloved abuela, as opposed to her white mother and her grandmother Mercy, both in the throes of mental illness and drug addiction much of their lives. Diaz talks about her love of books coming from her Papi as a young child, because of his love of books. It was Papi's books that she first read. She was always writing in her journals from the time she was a young child as well, perhaps foreshadowing her love of the craft.

This is a memoir told in a linear fashion grouped by subjects and themes as Diaz relates her story, much as it would be for memories surfacing in a very non-linear way. I think that Jaquira Diaz is a powerful voice in today's literature and this was a very powerful book on so many levels.

"We were the girls who strolled onto the blacktop on long summer days, dribbling past the boys on the court. We were the girls on the merry-go-round, laughing and laughing and letting the world spin while holding on for our lives. The girls on the swings, throwing our heads back, the wind in our hair. We were the loudmouths, the troublemakers, the practical jokers. We were the party girls, hitting the clubs in booty shorts and high-top Jordans, smoking blunts on the beach. We were the wild girls who loved music and dancing. Girls who were black and brown and poor and queer. Girls who loved each other."
Profile Image for Lolly K Dandeneau.
1,826 reviews231 followers
August 5, 2019
via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com...
'And the girls I ran with? Half of them I was secretly in love with. Street girls, who were escaping their own lives, trading the chaos of home for the chaos of the streets.'

In Jaquira Díaz’s memoir, Ordinary Girls, readers dig into the influences that shape the life of a young juvenile delinquent. She is more than that, she is first a confused, lonely, little girl who lives with a mother whose mental illness is spiraling into a deeper, darker place. As she grows up, she escapes her broken home or the ‘chaos of home’ and takes it out on the streets, with her tough as nails approach. She finds a sisterhood of girls who have suffered as much, or worse, and makes them family of the heart. It is all about escapism, what else is there in poverty and abuse then reckless abandon? What else is there for them to do but get high, drunk, fight til they draw blood or find themselves knocked out?

Living with a parent that suffers from schizophrenia is difficult even when you have extended family and friends, doctors willing to help, but imagine when the children are left to wonder at their mother’s strange paranoia, behaviors, rages? When a mother’s delusions are real to a child, and no one explains or fixes anything, what is to become of you? Worse, one who is a drug addict on top of it all. How can there be stability when the rest of the adults have fled? From her early childhood in Puerto Rico to their move to Miami, Florida- Jaquira is subject to very adult situations, and always leaving behind the love and support of her beloved abuela, the one person who loves and cares for her. At a young age the shock of what her father sells (drugs) makes no sense to her. Naturally with the people who come around, the children are exposed to the foulest of behavior. She doesn’t know any better about how poor they are, everyone seems to be just as bad off. The shock of violence in the streets is even more horrific, how can anyone maintain their innocence in such a place? Government housing projects full of shootings, stabbings, drug raids, and mouths full of stories that plant the seeds of terror in any child. You toughen up or you don’t make it out alive. You learn fast.

Her parents destructive love, her mother is a woman who ‘obsessively, violently’ loves Jaquira’s Papi (father) who is nothing short of a womanizer, seems fated to ruin. Was it his disinterest in her mother, the crack or coke that caused her to hear voices, or was it this very love that destroyed her? Certainly it was a catalyst, and it made life for Díaz nothing short of hell. Can kids get used to mugs flying over their heads during their parents jealous rages, fights? Doesn’t it follow then that maybe her brother’s bullying and meanness might be born through it too? Like it or not, we learn from our families, and our environment. It’s hard to imagine a softer world if yours is loud, painful. It’s hard to serve kindness when all you have been served is bitter, spitting hatred while your belly and heart rumble for sustenance.

Split between families she has one loving, accepting abuela and another grandmother, the white one, who made feel ashamed of her ethnicity, using her hair as a means to punish her for being ‘other than’. She made sure Jaquira knew she would never be as beautiful as her mother’s side. Strange to think there was more violence in that than all the ugliness she is submerged in, but that really cut me to read. This woman who should lift her grandchild up, make her proud of every cell of her body instead is the first to really make her feel that who she is supposed to be is shameful, low. It’s the same with fear, the adults are supposed to assuage a child’s deepest terrors, not become the monster.

Then Mami begins to see a man, lurking, looming like a murder waiting to happen. Her terror hums inside of Jaquira, all she wants is her parents to be together again, for her to be safe and loved with her abuela but god or the universe doesn’t seem to listen to the cries of a child like her. Just like everything else not meant for children such as she and her siblings, wishes and prayers are ignored. Her father comes and goes, and they behave as if he had never left. “The five of us were the kind of poor you could feel in your bones, in your teeth, in your stomach.” You can only imagine such a poor, if it’s never been your reality.

She is never happy nor in a stable environment for long, her mother steals her back and forces her madness on them- worse, Papi doesn’t seem to care, no one is ever coming to save them. It’s only a matter of time before she grows up, much too fast, and as a teenager becomes a hood rat. Then it was a desire for a violence she could never come back from, because she and her friends would never be ordinary girls who make their sadness seen through “sleeping pills and slit wrists”, if she is going to self-destruct it’s going to be a wild explosion! Beat downs, drugs, gangbangers, court dates, this is how someone will finally take notice, maybe her papi? This is how she lets her age out of it’s cage.

Must Jaquira remain in this state and either end up imprisoned or one day as mad as her mother? Or worse, dead? This is a tale of sadness so dark and overflowing that it becomes rage. This isn’t who she wants to be, she isn’t going to accept this battered, beaten down version of a girl. She will have the last word in who she is! She will fight and make it out, but not without mourning for those who didn’t. Through writing this very book she is reaching those who need to hear that someone has been there, she is a voice in the dark shouting alongside you, someone who wants to see all the girls, who are anything but ordinary, crawl out of the ruins.

A heavy, brutal journey.

Publication Date: October 29, 2019

Algonquin Books
Profile Image for Jillian.
365 reviews8 followers
October 26, 2019
Thanks to Netgalley and Algonquin for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Jaquira Diaz has had quite the life. It’s not easy to read about all of the crazy things she has endured in her life- such as a mother and grandmother with mental illness, friends dying, drugs, violence, etc. I found it very unsettling and felt sorrow for the author.

The jumping around chronologically made this an even tougher read for me. I wish it would have followed a more linear path. It didn’t quite flow for me and I found myself skimming over the random info she threw in on crimes or some historical figures (I didn’t quite get the connection to the story).

Overall an insightful story, and from a perspective that we don’t hear from much at all (Puerto Rican). I wanted to like this more but the jumping around made it a tough read.
Profile Image for Katy.
607 reviews18 followers
October 22, 2019
3.5-4*: A bit difficult to follow, and I wanted to know more about how she got from young adulthood to where she is now. I did marvel her strength and resilience in this very compelling narrative.
Profile Image for Degenerate Chemist.
833 reviews17 followers
February 22, 2022
This is such a beautiful, powerful read. Jaquira Diaz writes about her child in Puerto Rico and her families subsequent migration to Miami in the late 80's. It is a deeply personal memoir that celebrates the bonds between women as well as an examination into intergenerational trauma and colonialism.

Make on mistake this book is laser focused on an examination of justified female anger in the face of misogyny, racism, and colonialism in a way I haven't come across before. It examines queer identities and Diaz's honesty about her experiences on this front was bold and courageous.

This is just a wonderful memoir.
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