Ordinary Girls: A Memoir by Jaquira Diaz (Blog Tour Review)

We are women now– those of us who are alive, the ones who made it. For a while there, we didn’t know if any of us would.

Reading memoirs was part of my 2020 reading goals, and so far I’ve been blown away by the power of the ones I’ve read, so when I got an opportunity to join the blog tour for ORDINARY GIRLS, I jumped at it. Particularly after hearing about Jaquira Diaz’s recent 2020 Whiting Award for non-fiction win (more info here), I knew I was in for an emotional ride.

The paperback is out TODAY, so head down to the links at the end of my review to order your copy.

Rating: 4 stars!

Huge thanks to Algonquin Books for the review copy of this book and the chance to be on the blog tour for this powerful memoir, this has not affected my honest review.

The synopsis:

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.

What did I think?

This book was unputdownable. I intended to read a few chapters this morning and I ended up reading the whole thing. It was very, very readable, but by no means easy to read. This is a memoir to be read with caution, and awareness of themes of suicide, sexual assault, child abuse, mental illness, racism, violence and drug use all the way through. But if it’s safe for you to read, it’s a must read memoir. The narrative is tightly woven and I liked the way that it was threaded together by theme in points, abandoning chronology in favour of chasing down memories related to the moment she was telling the reader about. It made it a little confusing at points, and I had to consciously fit the chronological timeline back together, but I think the emotional effect it imparted was well worth a little confusion. Reading ORDINARY GIRLS felt a lot to me like I was being told the story by Jaquira and that just made it feel more personal. I also liked that in high-emotion moments, the novel-esque prose would loosen and sentences would get longer and run-on, making it feel even more like I was being spoken to. The narrative choices supported the story beautifully, making it heartbreaking and impossible to put down.

I can’t imagine the kind of courage it took for Jaquira to write this book, but I’m glad that she did and that I stumbled into the chance to read it. She doesn’t shy away from the truth of her actions and is brutally honest about her own actions as well as others. ORDINARY GIRLS is a story about a girl who has been persistently othered, even by her own white grandmother, and has been given whiplash by her family, loving and neglectful in equal turns. There’s no glossing over in this memoir, it’s raw and open and it hurt to read at points, and I felt myself aching for a happy ending, even though I know things aren’t so easy in real life. There’s no magical fix it here, just a girl who discovers that she’s willing to work for her future, willing to fight to live after all and who grows into a woman who’s a survivor to her core.

Links:

Add it on Goodreads here!

Buy at Hive if you can and support your local indie booksellers! Also available at Waterstones and Amazon.

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