cover image Ordinary Girls: A Memoir

Ordinary Girls: A Memoir

Jaquira Díaz. Algonquin, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-61620-913-1

Díaz’s strong debut memoir charts her poor, violent childhood in Puerto Rico and Miami and her bumpy transition from girlhood to womanhood. The book opens in 1985 in Puerto Rico, where Díaz’s father, Papi, was a drug dealer and her mother, Mami, was an erratic personality who’d soon be in the grips of schizophrenia. Within a few years the family moved to Miami Beach, in pursuit of better opportunities. Díaz recalls that her parents were constantly fighting and uprooting her and her two siblings: “every new apartment would be smaller than the last.” She writes about being a juvenile delinquent and “a closeted queer girl in a homophobic place,” taking drugs, running away, getting married at 17, and being sexually assaulted. Her most gripping stories concern the women in her life: her angry maternal grandmother, who mocked her appearance; her paternal grandmother, who brought her joy and relief; and her mother, a “shattered creature” whom she watched descend into mental illness and addiction. A turning point for Díaz comes toward the end of the book, when Díaz details how enlisting in the Navy at 18 gave her the stability she needed. Díaz’s empowering book wonderfully portrays the female struggle and the patterns of family dysfunction. (Oct.)