Ordinary Girls: Book summary and reviews of Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz

Ordinary Girls

A Memoir

by Jaquira Díaz

Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz X
Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz
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  • Publishes in USA 
    Oct 29, 2019
    336 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

With a story reminiscent of Tara Westover's Educate and Roxane Gay's Hunger, celebrated writer Jaquira Díaz triumphantly maps a way out of despair toward love and hope and delivers a memoir that reads as electrically as a novel.

"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.


About the Author
Jaquira Díaz was born in Puerto Rico. Her work has been published in Rolling Stone, the Guardian, the Fader, and T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and included in The Best American Essays 2016. 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 partner, the writer Lars Horn.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[A] compelling debut. A must-read memoir on vulnerability, courage, and everything in between from a standout writer." - Library Journal (starred review)

"[A] strong debut ... gripping ... Díaz's empowering book wonderfully portrays the female struggle and the patterns of family dysfunction." - Publishers Weekly

"She is a wondrous survivor, a woman who has claimed her own voice, a writer who writes for those who have no voice." - Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street

"A powerful memoir, heart-wrenching, inspiring, thoroughly engrossing, reminiscent of Mary Karr's The Liar's Club, Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and more recently Tara Westover's Educated. Through one family's story, we learn about challenges of poverty, migration, uprootedness, addiction, sexism, racism--but also about the triumphant, spirited storyteller who survives to tell the tale. Jaquira Díaz is our contemporary Scheherazade, telling stories to keep herself alive and whole, and us her readers mesmerized and wanting more. And we get it: there is more life packed on each page of Ordinary Girls than some lives hold in a lifetime." - Julia Alvarez, author of In the Time of the Butterflies

"A life story of astonishing honesty and beauty and power, a memoir of breath and rhythm and blood-red struggle, a book for everyone who has ever felt homesick inside their own skin, and for those who, like Díaz, sing the marvelous song of themselves at top volume." - Karen Russell, author of Orange World

"Jaquira Díaz writes about ordinary girls living extraordinary lives. And Díaz is no ordinary observer. She is a wondrous survivor, a woman who has claimed her own voice, a writer who writes for those who have no voice, for the black and brown girls 'who never saw themselves in books.' Jaquira Díaz writes about them with love. How extraordinary is that!" - Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street

"Díaz blazes a bold path from the depths of the heart and guts of girls up through their fiercely beautiful throats into unstoppable song. Ordinary Girls risks dipping into family fractures, identity traumas, and the strained lines between cultures with language so fierce in places I bit my tongue, so tender in places I felt humming in my skin. Sometimes the repressed, oppressed girl, against all odds, goes back to get her own body and voice. This book will save lives." - Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Book of Joan

"Jaquira Díaz is an unstoppable force. Her writing is alive with power. I stand in awe of what she brings us. The future is here." - Luís Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels

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Reader Reviews

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Melissa S. (Rowland, NC)

Overcoming Soul-Deep Disappointment
In Ordinary Girls, Jaquira Diaz delivers both a soul torturing and to your core inspirational memoir that leaves the reader wondering how in the hell she lives long enough to finish college, much less create a productive, meaningful, and successful life. Diaz's childhood and young adulthood are so riddled with heartache, abuse, and guttural disappointment, I many times forget I am reading nonfiction. I find myself over and over again questioning, "How can this be real? How can one person endure so much emotional torture (from everyone, including herself)?" Once I accept Diaz's reality, I am able to see the beauty in the relationships of Diaz's life. What makes this memoir so very relatable is the fact that even though we may not have lived in the slums of Miami with a drug-addicted mentally ill mother, we have all been hurt by family members. Much like Jeannette Walls in The Glass Castle, I see a woman who, after enduring a life of pain, sorrow, and immense family disappointment, decides to rise, take up her cross and show the world what a survivor looks like, and in the end, come to peace with everything.

Diaz's mission to give voice to the people whom society never allowed is achieved only through baring her soul and sharing all the harrowing details of growing up with parents who succumb to their own demons and almost take their children with them. My belief in the human spirit and that little "something" deep within us that so very rarely gets tapped, is renewed again and again with this memoir. Just when I think Diaz is going to kill herself or someone else, she rises from the ashes of one screwed up life and propels herself further than anyone ever believed she could.

RebeccaR (Western USA)

An Intense Look at the Effect of Poverty
Although ORDINARY GIRLS is a memoir, it is also an intense bird's-eye view of poverty and its particularly devastating effects upon females in America. For readers who liked the YA novel The Hate U Give, there's no doubt you will like Jaquira Diaz's memoir. However, for readers who might have been disappointed in The Hate U Give or who never read it because YA is not a genre you cross over to, do not let this "for fans of" type comparison prevent you from reading ORDINARY GIRLS. Diaz's book reads like a novel but does not spare any gritty details or romanticize poverty. There are no cliche we-were-poor-but happy scenes here. Young Jaqui's debilitating hunger and exposure to pedophiles openly preying on unsupervised children help the reader understand just how bad urban poverty can be. Interestingly, the author does not condemn any one person or sector of society for her horrible childhood or her horrible life choices. When the book wraps up with references to well-televised moments in Puerto Rico after 2017's Hurricane Maria, it is a vivid reminder that these 319 pages deal with real people.

Patti H. (Williston, VT)

My review of "Ordinary Girls" by Jaquira Diaz
A memoir that is an "in your face" memoir. Ms. Diaz pulls you in right from the very first page. She talks about "finding ourselves, even as we are losing the people we love, how we are not defined by the worst thing we've ever done". An extraordinary statement in the eyes of this reader.

Her story is about survival, battling addictions, mental illness and deplorable situations of abuse and neglect at the hands of those who are meant to protect her. Ms. Diaz is strong, willful, defiant, yet caring and compassionate. When she loves, she loves with every part of her being......her friends, "abeula", Alaina, Mami and Papi. Her love is fierce and unremitting.

This is the memoir of all memoirs. Ms. Diaz tells us exactly as it is, as it should be and as it isn't. Comparable to none, Ms. Diaz is at the top of her league. Writing for all the "girls" and those who have no "voice", she is an undeniably, remarkable, empowering woman. She is the "voice" for all those who dare not speak. Perhaps now they will........

Sandra C. (Rensselaer, NY)

Eyeopening
It was eyeopening to hear about the life the author led and how she turned it around. The average person has no idea of what the poor have to deal with on a daily basis. Part of the time I was embarrassed by the way this country treats the poor, folks from other countries, and the mentally ill. However the theme of community ran through the book. No matter the circumstances most people want to belong to a group of some sort.

Dorinne D. (Wickenburg, AZ)

Ordinary Girls with Extraordinary Lives
This memoir by Jaquira Diaz gives us an intimate look into life in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach for Latinas. Not an easy life by any means, with a dysfunctional mother and a disinterested father, Jaqui grows up fending for herself in every way imaginable, and to a middle class American like myself, in many ways unimaginable. The fact that suicide is regarded as a solution to her situation, one which she thinks about a lot and almost succeeds in accomplishing, but never quite making it the end of life, is commonplace. The best part of this story, for me, is the fact in spite of all the odds against her success, Jaqui ends up getting her GED, eventually going to college and getting her Masters Degree, and becomes a successful freelance writer. Another highlight is the childhood relationships that Jaqui manages to keep going throughout her life - the love she and her friends have for each other, even through all their trials and tribulations. This book should be an inspiration for us all, whether or not we have suffered the deprivations and humiliations of the "ordinary girls" in the story. It shows that, no matter what your struggles in life are, you can overcome them with a strong will and determination, or as my mother would tell me: Mind over matter will always win in the end!

Amy S. (Tucson, AZ)

What A Ride!
Diaz offers a gut wrenchingly honest and unapologetic look at her life, the people, and the places that shaped her. Her title implies that the way she and her friends lived was "ordinary", or perhaps more common than we think. "All those people, they just didn't get that there was no way in hell we could care about homework, or getting to school on time- -or at all- -when our parents were on drugs or getting stabbed, and we were getting arrested or jumped or worse." When WILL we get it?

Diaz's memoir reads somewhat frantically - I could feel the beat of the music she danced to, the fists pounding against her, the heart racing fear she experienced, the alcohol flowing down her throat... I felt myself bobbing up and down as I read about the highs and lows in her life.

I wished she hadn't glossed over the moments of sheer strength and perseverance she found deep inside her to escape the cycle of addiction, violence, and mental illness because her achievements, in light of all she faced, are anything but ordinary.

...7 more reader reviews

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More Information

With a story reminiscent of Tara Westover's Educate and Roxane Gay's Hunger, celebrated writer Jaquira Díaz triumphantly maps a way out of despair toward love and hope and delivers a memoir that reads as electrically as a novel.

More Author Information

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