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Abused, Addicted, Biracial and Queer: Jaquira Díaz Is Anything but ‘Ordinary’

Díaz is so focused on the madness in her life that she glosses over the process of how she eventually breaks free from it. We know, by virtue of her writing and publishing this book, and by the few flash-forward details she provides, that she not only survives but thrives: graduating from college, becoming a journalist and a writing teacher. But we never learn when the turning point occurs. “There comes a time when we realize that our parents cannot protect us, as much as we want them to, or need them to,” she writes. “There comes a time when we realize that we must save ourselves.” Indeed she does save herself, though we don’t get to see her in her moments of greatest triumph.

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, although at times the writing feels a little too crafty, her technique underscored, keeping the reader constantly aware of the writer’s presence. Some flash-forwards are jarring and confusing, others feel gratuitous, and keeping track of the chronology becomes a struggle. But perhaps disorientation is necessary to convey the life of this ordinary girl who was forced to grow up too quickly and fend for herself.

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. It takes courage to write a book like “Ordinary Girls,” and Díaz does not shy away from her deepest, most troubling truths. She jumps into the writing of her story and gets her hands dirty, her heart broken, her spirit bruised.

“We are women now — those of us who are alive, the ones who made it,” she writes. “For a while there, we didn’t know if any of us would.” We’re fortunate that she did make it, that she emerged from the fight against life victorious, and is still here among us to give us hope and courage for our own struggles.

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