In Jaquira Diaz’s debut book, Ordinary Girls, she chronicles her life growing up on the streets of Puerto Rico and Miami Beach. Originally published last year and winning awards like the 2019 Whiting Award in Nonfiction, this memoir is poignant, engaging, and a book that everyone should read at some point in their lives.
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.
Diaz’s story is a truly inspiring tale of a juvenile delinquent who seems like she wouldn’t amount to anything, yet defied the odds and turned her life around. The way she recalls her younger self and the things she did with both fondness and frustration is heartbreaking. However, the way she weaves the story of dealing with her schizophrenic mother, neglectful father, two abuelas (one loving and the other not so much), and friends she considered family, into a memoir/nonfiction piece is amazing.
The descriptions and historical background of Puerto Rico mixed with Diaz’s own life stories shows her Puerto Rican pride and how she is a culmination of all of the things that happened in the past. However, being defined by these things isn’t necessarily a bad thing sometimes. She takes the phrase “ordinary girls” and uses it to describe the simplicity and complications of what life was like for her back then and how it wasn’t ordinary at all, but to her it was. Despite being a street fighter, runaway, and high school dropout, Diaz candidly expresses how she takes those labels, along with her struggles with drug abuse and depression, and tries to make sense of her identity and strove to be ordinary, or what she assumes “ordinary” to be. The way Diaz tells her story is unlike any other memoir I’ve read and it is fascinating to read about what it was like for her to grow up in the projects.
If you’re looking for an own-voices story or a book that will allow you to live someone else’s life for a short time, then this book is a must-read! This novel is inspiring, raw, and novel-esque in the way it’s told. The paperback version will be released on June 16th and it is definitely one to keep an eye out for.
Hi! My name is Elisa and my bookshelf is quite literally overflowing! Join me in my journey of reading as many books as humanly possible!