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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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  • Published Oct 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.

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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

"[Ordinary Girls] belongs on your must-read lists. Díaz is a masterful writer ... Writing with refreshing honesty, she talks about despair, depression, love, and hope with such vibrancy that her vivid portrayal will stay with you long after the final page." - O: The Oprah Magazine

"Every once in a while, a truly electric debut memoir comes along, and this fall, Ordinary Girls is it. It's the story of an ordinary girl; it's the story of all of the extraordinary girls. Díaz is a skilled writer; the depth of layering is strong, from the details to the larger structures of identity, white supremacy, colonialism, and brown, queer, and femme resilience and resistance." - BuzzFeed

"Díaz does not flinch with the hard-hitting details of growing up in communities that deserve our wholehearted attention. She complicates how we imagine girlhood and offers a beautiful memoir written with so much love, compassion and intelligence. This book is a necessary read at a time where the system and the media is so often working against the survival of women of color. This book burns in the memory and makes one feel all the feelings. A triumph!" - Bustle (Angie Cruz, author of Dominicana)

"A dynamic examination of the power of persistence." - Time (Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2019)

"Outstanding. A powerful and lyrical coming-of-age story, Ordinary Girls is a candid illustration of shame, despair and violence as well as joy and triumph. Against a Puerto Rican backdrop, this debut is compassionate, brave and forgiving." - Ms. Magazine

"At once heartbreaking and throbbing with life in a rich portrait that's anything but ordinary." - Good Housekeeping (The 50 Best Books of 2019 to Add to Your Reading List)

"There's a certain ferocity throughout the entirety of Ordinary Girls. For some of the book, it's humming like a hardworking engine - concealed under the hood, always present - but then there are moments when it combusts, bursting from the page in such a way that you, as a reader, have to pause and take a breath. Ordinary Girls is an electrifying, deftly-paced debut." - Salon

"Diaz's resilience and writing abilities are far from ordinary; she's an emissary from an experience that many young women have. Listen." - Refinery29

"A whirlwind memoir. Like Maya Angalou's seminal 1969 memoir I know Why the Caged Bird Sings before it, Ordinary Girls, is brutally honest in a way that few books dare to be." - Bitch

"Striking. Díaz's story is absolutely breathtaking." - NBC Latino

"A fierce, unflinching account of ordinary girls leading extraordinary lives." - Poets & Writers
"Every so often you discover a voice that just floors you - or rather, feels like it can bulldoze something in your very soul. This fall, that voice belongs to Jaquira Díaz." - The Week (25 Books to Read in the Second Half of 2019)

"In her debut memoir, Jaquira Díaz mines her experiences growing up in Puerto Rico and Miami, grappling with traumas both personal and international, and over time converts them into something approaching hope and self-assurance. For years, Díaz has dazzled in shorter formats - stories, essays, etc. - and her entrée into longer lengths is very welcome." - The Millions

"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

This information about Ordinary Girls was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Kathryn W. (Weatherly, PA)

Compelling read
Diaz writes with a fierce honesty that can be overwhelming at times as her childhood and young adult life were difficult to the extreme. While this is a memoir it almost reads like a novel in part due to the detail with which she tells her story. I also found it very interesting that she wove bits of Puerto Rican history throughout her story giving the reader a sense of who the people of Puerto Rico are. At times tragic and heartbreaking it is also a story of survival and the power of friendship.

Dotty S. (Bloomington, IN)

Powerful memoir
I was fascinated to read about this woman's life growing up first in Puerto Rico and then in Miami. I knew very little about the area in Miami where Jaquira Diaz and her family lived. The Miami I knew of was the place of extremely wealthy, the place where rich people spend the winter - I knew absolutely nothing about the poverty and hardships of her community.

I thought that she was amazingly strong to have gone through all that she did, and still remain positive and hopeful. Her home life was truly horrific. Her Grandmother was the only true parent and role model. She never wavered in her love and support for Jaqui and all her children and grandchildren.

It's a powerful illustration of poverty and the extreme lack of services for the poor, especially poor people of color.

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........

Maryanne (Chapel Hill, NC)

Breakout from Poverty
Poverty is the underlying challenge of Jaquira Diaz's broken childhood – a childhood that is plagued with parental neglect and addiction, verbal and physical abuse, rejection, hunger, and utter chaos. Living in public housing projects in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach, Diaz relates her struggles with unrepressed anger, depression, suicide, and sexual identity while clinging to a core group of troubled girlfriends like herself. Many will compare this book to Tara Westover's "Educated", because both women relate an escape story from abusive families, but their journeys are very different. Once Westover fled from her parents' isolated home in Idaho, her memoir reflects a fairly linear, forward journey with some minor bumps. In contrast, Diaz's escape mirrors her convoluted route, but her omission of the detailed process along with her disjointed, non-linear writing style make it difficult to follow. Nevertheless, Diaz's story is not to be missed.

...15 more reader reviews

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More Information

Jaquira Díaz was born in Puerto Rico. Her work has been published in Rolling Stone, the Guardian, the Fader, and 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. Visit her at

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