Jaquira Díaz’s Ordinary Girls reaches deep into your heart and seizes your emotions from the very first sizzling paragraph. And as it carries you into some of Díaz’s darkest shadows and out into variegated light, it refuses to let go. In staccato sentences, Díaz walks us through her community: “We were the girls who strolled onto the blacktop on long summer days, dribbling past the boys on the court. . . . We were the wild girls who loved music and dancing. Girls who were black and brown and poor and queer. Girls who loved each other.”
In fiercely honest prose, Díaz turns back every page of her life, starting with growing up in El Caserío Padre Rivera, the government housing projects in Puerto Rico, and sharing stories from there that she “never wants to forget.” In this world, Díaz learns about danger and violence and death, but she also learns about community. She yearns for a more loving family and home, but her mother and father can provide only a soundtrack of constant bickering and yelling. There’s no love lost between Díaz and her brother, who beats her and abuses her emotionally and whom she tries to kill with a steak knife.
When the family moves to Miami Beach, life looks a little sunnier because they’ve moved up financially, but only for a moment. Her mother and father split, and her mother sinks into addiction that’s exacerbated by schizophrenia. Díaz eventually escapes the violence through an early marriage, a stint in the Navy and enrollment in college and creative writing courses, though she never sheds her friendships, her family or her memories.
The stunning beauty of Díaz’s memoir grows out of its passion, its defiance, its longing, its love and its clear-eyed honesty. Díaz’s story hums with a vibrant beauty, shining a light out of the darkness that shadowed her life.