Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard
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Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  8,704 ratings  ·  1,382 reviews
In the vein of The Glass Castle, Breaking Night is the stunning memoir of a young woman who at age fifteen was living on the streets, and who eventually made it into Harvard.

Liz Murray was born to loving but drug-addicted parents in the Bronx. In school she was taunted for her dirty clothing and lice-infested hair, eventually skipping so many classes that she was put into...more
Published September 7th 2010 by Hyperion (first published January 1st 2010)
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Breaking Night by Liz MurrayAlmost Home by Kevin M. RyanGirlbomb by Janice ErlbaumOpen Our Eyes by Kevin D. HendricksRuby, Between the Cracks by P.D. Workman
1st out of 30 books — 13 voters
The Glass Castle by Jeannette WallsAngela's Ashes by Frank McCourtI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya AngelouRunning with Scissors by Augusten BurroughsOnce Upon a Road Trip by Angela N. Blount
Coming-of-Age Memoirs
11th out of 65 books — 81 voters

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Community Reviews

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This is such a sad, yet hopeful, story. Imagine growing up with two addicts for parents, never knowing when you'll get food again, having your mom stealing your birthday money for a hit and always worrying that something will happen to them when they're out scoring drugs. And Liz was lucky, she at least had parents who loved her.

There were so many things in Breaking Night that got to me. When she was little she tried to do whatever would make them happy. She was the perfect daughter, even suppo...more
There are so many thoughts running through my head after finishing this book. Liz Murray was raised by parents who were addicted to drugs. They loved Liz and her sister, but their need for drugs trumped everything in their lives, including providing for the basic needs of their daughters. Through hard work, determination, hope and the help of others, both girls are able to break the cycle and move on with their lives. At the age of 14, Liz decides it is better to be homeless than stay in her cur...more
Having been told that this was the next Glass Castle, I was really excited to read it and from the opening it was a relentless, shocking, brilliant book.

The pace was fast, the writing beautiful and the story line became a page-turner. I couldn't get enough. Then about two thirds into the book, Murray starts gushing thanks and apologies like she's using the memoir as a therapeutic tool rather than a book. She bangs on, nauseatingly, about sleeping rough, (we got it the 448th time Liz). Then she...more
I wrote about Liz Murray when I first heard her interviewed on NPR, and I really wanted to read her memoir. It did not disappoint! I spent a lovely rainy weekend up at a cabin, and sat around reading Liz’s survival story all day, taking in all that she went through and how she overcame such incredible odds to “make it” in the world. Her writing was accessible and beautiful and gritty. Some of it was hard to read — I felt very protective of her and I found I just wanted to make everything OK. So...more
Wendy Hall
Wow. What a powerful book. I so appreciate Liz Murray writing this deeply personal, intimate book of a childhood full of struggles, neglect, and abuse. Yet she found love there and in the midst of her raw hurt, she was able to rise above her circumstances and be a productive, successful member of society. An incredible story.

This book did for me what I longed for "The Glass Castle" to do - show the link between the awful childhood and the successful adult. She took the reader step by step throug...more
Christa Sgobba
Wow, this was one incredible read--and it's really hard to believe that it's not fiction.

I had heard of Liz Murray before--who can forget the catchy tagline "from homeless to Harvard?"--but I hadn't really read anything about her or seen the Lifetime movie about her story. So when I saw my library had this book, I was excited to give it a shot.

The book really reads like a novel. It's very fast-paced, and it doesn't get bogged down with too much "explanation" like a lot of memoirs do (the telling...more
This is one of those books that made me count my blessings. Liz was born to parents who loved her, but who were unreliable drug addicts. They tried to be good parents, but their own needs came first. And second. And third. Liz grew up not knowing when her next meal would be, never having clean clothes, and living in a filthy apartment where even basic maintenance wasn't carried out. Eventually her family fell apart and, as the title suggests, Liz became homeless.

What could have been a very depre...more
Sonja Arlow
Dec 27, 2013 Sonja Arlow rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sonja by: Tania
This book broke my heart!

Not only did it shatter me to read about a 4 year old who sees her parents shooting up drugs in the kitchen on a daily basis, having a mother that would steal her birthday money and squander all the welfare money just to score.

What was even more upsetting is that these seemingly uncaring parents really loved their children. Its clear in all their interactions with their kids but their drug habits and the grip that their addiction had on them were just too much to fight....more
Mary Sue
This is truly an amazing and inspirational story. One that I will never forget. Liz's story proves that we are in control of our own lives and our destiny. Her story is definitely heartwrenching as she tells us of her life growing up in a rat infested, filthy NY apartment with her older sister and her drug addicted mentally ill parents. Her parents, who blew through their welfare check each month on drugs and liquor leaving her and her older sister with nothing. I was amazed how she always loved...more
Lisa Vegan
This memoir is truly amazing, especially as it pertains to showing the obstacles its author overcame; she has amazing resilience and she’s incredibly inspiring. This paperback edition includes discussion questions and an interview with the author, and they make this a good edition to read, especially if the book will be discussed with other readers. I’d love to see this assigned at alternative high schools similar to the one Liz graduated from, and to all high school students.

This book is beauti...more
A goodreads friend recently asked me about my antipathy toward The Glass Castle, and I couldn't for the life of me remember why I gave it only one star. I think there were some contextual factors at play in my own life at the time. I remember thinking it was hard to believe, and that I wished Jeannette Walls had shared more about how she transitioned from a horrific situation into her current apparently normal one, issues I had with this book as well. I can't really figure out why some rags-to-r...more
The triumph of Liz' life made it worth reading all the other difficulties she experienced. Her journey was about being raised in a home where her parents' main focus was on where their next high was coming from and advanced to being homeless then arrived to her hope for acceptance to Harvard. She was candidly honest in the accounting of her life and articulate in the retelling of the experiences as well as her feelings towards what was happening to her. Particularly well developed insights into...more
I am probably the last person in America to hear this inspiring true story, since it was featured on 20/20 and some kind of movie was made of it as well. I was thinking that the subtitle "From homeless to Harvard" basically said it all, so I wasn't expecting any suspense. Even though I knew from the title how it would turn out, the book was gripping and full of adventure(?). I was also erroneously thinking that the story would be of a middle class person whose parents were affected by the recess...more
What was Noteworthy:

-The book is a memoir, meaning it is non-fictional.

-The theme of this book is never accepting failure and there is always time to succeed. In Breaking Night, Murray faces a lot issues with her mother dead and being homeless. But she doesn't accept giving up on life. Murray tries her best to retry high school and manages to be so successful, she gets into Harvard college.

-Liz's parents are unique characters that you feel bad for. They are not fit for taking care of children, y...more
I think the best part of this book was how the author assumes the intelligence of the reader. She doesn't have to say "and by that one experience, I realized that sometimes the people that you are told will help you, actually do more harm than the things they are trying to prevent". She just tells her story and lets you make your own explanations or reasoning.

And that is what her main idea is: Whatever happens to us, we have to decipher it for ourselves and use it to the best of our ability. Don...more
Call me jaded, but these days it's a rare book that can so capture me that I can't put it down. This is one of those books. Liz Murray was born into an appalling life in New York City, the child of drug addicted parents. She recounts here childhood in Brooklyn, scavenging for furniture, clothes and toys in garbage bins with her father. Her mother received an SSI disability check each month, and her parents would blow it on drugs in the first two weeks. By the age of nine she wasn't attending sch...more
Jason Pellegrini
It's hard to believe that people actually go through this stuff. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I'm reading a memoir and not a piece of fiction; pulling up from the depths of somebody's imagination. Then the reminder that it is all real makes the story that much better!

Breaking Night is truly an unbelievable story, but yet it is the truth. The author's battle to escape the circumstances in which she was born in to and raised in is truly an amazing tale. Then once she decides what she wa...more
Liz Murray does an exceptional job making the beginnings of her life's story into something the reader can see, feel, and understand while not feeling hate towards the people who contributed to it. I would have expected to finish the book railing against the family that for all intents and purposes abandoned her before she ever became homeless, but she has made her peace with them, and it comes through. Yet she's not completely detached when recounting it, just manages to make you see how it was...more
WOW!!!! A really great memoir! Not sure where to even start. A friend recommended it to me and I am so happy I instantly took her up on the offer. A powerful and gripping account of what drug addiction does to a family and the amazing ability to create your own destiny even when every odd is against you. Liz Murray's story is devastating. She was born into a family of drug addicts who have never worked. She and her sister Lisa don't know a way of life that doesn't include watching their parents...more
Breaking Night by Liz Murray is a powerful book. It's a wonder that anyone who survives an upbringing like she did would: A. live through it B. make it through without becoming an addict herself or C. make it to adulthood a sane human being. The story of her life goes on and on with obstacle, after struggle, after heartbreak, after tragedy. It seems the kind of memoir that is just over the top, too hard to believe, but it is the truth. Reminiscent of Sapphire's Push, I, as the reader, wondered w...more
If you've read The Glass Castle, you shouldn't miss Breaking Night. Liz Murray was born to drug addicted parents. It seemed like they maybe wanted to take care of Liz and her older sister Lisa, but drugs had such a powerful hold on them that even caring for themselves was impossible. The kids went days without food, the apartment was in a state not often seen outside of Hoarders, Liz almost never went to school or showered, the list of neglect and abuse goes on and on. The conditions in which sh...more
Nur Farah Nabila
I watched the movie on Hallmarks many years ago and it brought me to tears. Then 2 years ago, i watched it again and decided that "I'm going to google about this" and i did. Let me tell you,after finding out that the story was indeed based on a real life events, i search everywhere for this book.

i had such a hard time finding this book in my country, where people don't read much on memoirs. after searching up and down, finally the book is mine! yayy me!

Well, Liz Murray totally let loose on ever...more
I probably would have liked this more if it were the first book of the genre I had read. It’s one of those “raised in horrible conditions but rose above it” memoirs like The Glass Castle and The Liar’s Club. The book jacket describes Liz Murray’s parents as “loving but drug-addicted.” I had some trouble buying the “loving” part. Definitely a fascinating story with an amazing and admirable author, but the narrative of her early years was excessively detailed at time – except for her relationship...more
About the book: Liz Murray was born to loving but drug-addicted parents in the Bronx. In school she was taunted for her dirty clothing and lice-infested hair, eventually skipping so many classes that she was put into a girls' home. At age fifteen, Liz found herself on the streets when her family finally unraveled. She learned to scrape by, foraging for food and riding subways all night to have a warm place to sleep.

When Liz's mother died of AIDS, she decided to take control of her own destiny an...more
Hildy (The Book Boss)
Wow! I never would have picked up this book had a GR friend not recommended it. I'd never heard of Liz Murray and therefore didn't know her story. I cried from sadness and from extreme happiness. I felt like I could so clearly picture every place Liz inhabited and she just tugged at my heart. I teach little children and I can't imagine any of them having to go through what she went through. What surprised me most of all was her unwavering love for her family. It didn't seem like much of one to m...more
This memoir, which had tiny print and was longer than it seemed, was excellent! It is about a girl who grows up with parents who are drug addicts. She lives an awful childhood, which is spent being dirty all of the time, with a sad, mentally ill mother, and a closeted father, both who end up contracting HIV. Liz ends up homeless after something awful happens, and the book tells her story of how she goes from being a truant high schoolers to a Harverd graduate. This story was extremely well writt...more
If you liked The Glass Castle, then I think you will like this book as well. A completely horrifying childhood ultimately redeemed by the smart kid who finds a way out. I heard about this book when the author did an interview on the BBC and she sounded impressive - and this book reinforces that view. I can't help but be saddened by the circumstances of her childhood and recognizing that most of the kids in her situation (addicted and abdicating parents) do not manage to do so.
What an amazing story of resilience. A girl raised by 2 drug addicted but loving parents and how she ultimately turns her life around. And forgiveness and love. Maybe most of all love.
Murray's descriptive writing made me feel like I was in her apartment, walking her streets, watching her parents, and feeling her anxiety.

Ruth Turner

This is really quite a remarkable story, and well worth reading.

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Liz Murray completed high school and won a New York Times scholarship while homeless, and graduated from Harvard University in 2009. She has been awarded The White House Project Role Model Award, a Christopher Award, as well as the Chutzpah Award, which was given to Liz by Oprah Winfrey. Lifetime Television produced a film about Liz’s life, Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story. Today, she tra...more
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“Instead, what I was beginning to understand was that however things unfolded from here on, whatever the next chapter was, my life could never be the sum of one circumstance. It would be determined, as it had always been, by my willingness to put one foot in front of the other, moving forward, come what may.” 55 likes
“In the years ahead of me, I learned that the world is actually filled with people ready to tell you how likely something is, and what it means to be realistic. But what I have also learned is that no one, no one truly knows what is possible until they go and do it.” 44 likes
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