Hello, hello! This week, I’m participating in the blog tour for the paperback release of Jaquira Diaz’s memoir Ordinary Girls. It was originally released in October, 2019 from Algonquin Books. Since then, it has received an abundance of praise and has won the Whiting Award in Nonfiction. Thanks to receiving a copy of the book from Algonquin Books and NetGalley, I’ll be providing my own review shortly, but first I thought I would share some praise the book’s already earned.
“A skilled writer, Díaz is meticulous in her craft, and on page after page her writing truly sings. Her temporal leaps and switches in tense and point of view make the overall delivery both powerful and complex… This brutally honest coming-of-age story is a painful yet illuminating memoir, a testament to resilience in the face of scarcity, a broken family, substance abuse, sexual assault, mental illness, suicide and violence.”
-The New York Times Book Review
“A fierce, unflinching account of ordinary girls leading extraordinary lives.”
-Poets & Writers
“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
Ordinary Girls tells the story of Diaz’s life from a young childhood in Puerto Rico to an adolescence in Miami to an adulthood still searching for where she belongs. There are dysfunctional families that fall apart, friendships that transform into makeshift families, struggles being overcome, and so much more. It’s Diaz’s story, her life, but it’s also a relatable story for so many young women.
Diaz doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics. She writes openly about suicide and addiction from both sides. She writes about violence and racism and sexual assault. There’s a struggle with her own sexuality. There’s the growth from a teenage “delinquent” (just a girl who doesn’t know any other way to cope with life) to a young woman who knows she can be better and does the only thing she can think of to prove it to herself by joining the navy. And throughout the memoir, Diaz sprinkles in bits of Puerto Rican history to help define where she comes from. It makes for an interesting and moving combination.
The writing is strong. I admit that some of the shifts in tense and changes from more personal writing styles to more journalistic styles were jarring for me. I don’t read much nonfiction, so I’m used to a more uniform style. But once I stopped reading each section as a type of chapter and started reading them more as linked essays, I got into the flow of the book much easier.
Ultimately, Ordinary Girls was an intriguing and emotional piece that I’m glad I read. It’s not something I would have picked up on my own, but it’s relatable and for the parts I couldn’t relate to, it’s enlightening.
Overall, I gave it four out of five stars. If you enjoy memoirs, this is definitely one worth picking up.
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 Guardian, The Fader, Conde 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.