Breaking Night by Liz Murray
“A memoir of forgiveness, survival, and my journey from homeless to Harvard.”
Publisher: Hyperion Books
It’s hard to believe this book is a memoir, a true-life story of someone’s life. I read it more like fiction because it kept me in a state of horrific disbelief. Ms Murray (Liz) writes her experiences with sweet innocence, surprisingly without anger, and is able to share her appalling experiences growing up with drug-addicted parents.
“Drug addicted parents” just does not fully paint the picture of what Ms Murray endured in her childhood. But Liz writes with poetic force; she combines the repulsive with tenderness. It is astonishing how Liz and her sister survived in conditions in which the normal person wouldn’t even think about because they have never had to experience it. At one point in time the girls had to eat a tube of toothpaste and cylinder of Chap Stick because they were so hungry and there had been no food in the house for quite some time. Whatever money came in went right back out on drugs.
Liz writes about watching her parents abuse drugs, trying to protect them, and wanting to be a part of their world, starving for their attention and parenting. Blood splattered walls, filth, a constant empty refrigerator, lice invested hair, and having to stand on a bucket in the shower in order to stay out of the sewage in the bathtub are just some of the things Liz and her sister learned to live with during their childhood.
As a teenager, for various reasons, Liz finds herself homeless. She relies on friends to sneak her in when they can, or she sleeps on subways and in apartment hallways in New York City. After her mother dies of AIDS, Liz makes a decision to go back to school and finding an alternative prep school that takes her in, Liz determines to cram four years of high school into two years. During these school years, hard work, dedication, and determination, Liz learns what it means to want more and that the world is waiting for her to show up and participate.
Ms Murray wins the prestigious New York Times scholarship and goes on to attend Harvard.
Now, my thoughts…..
I was amazed at this book, for a few different reasons. One, the horrific conditions these kids had to live in, the extreme drug abuse by her parents and child neglect. How Liz could write her memoir without anger or blame and without resentment. How she could write such honesty without shame or guilt or betrayal.
Then, her homelessness and grit. Her determination to go back to school, cramming four years into two. She had to learn three things at once on most occasions, example – having to do an essay – first she had to learn how to use a computer, how to write in essay format, and then write the essay.
I loved it when she had to make the decision to go to school over and over and over again. In other words, she just didn’t wake up one day and say to herself, “Hey I want to go back to school. I will make this commitment and I will finish.” – and that was all there was to it, no, she had to do it every single day. At one time in the book she talks about wanting to stay under the warm blanket, or get up and walk through the door. It would have been easier for her to stay under the blanket, she was used to that lifestyle – moving through the city, stealing food, hustling, bumming a mattress at her friends’ houses, sleeping on the subway. But she wanted more so she would have to decide to get up and walk through the door every single day.
I don’t want to hear any more excuses from anyone about anything, to include myself. You need to read this book for inspiration, motivation, and to read about real perseverance and a life transformed.
Breaking Night was my new book club’s first choice. We only had three ladies show up but it was a great beginning.