Jeff Scott's Reviews > Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard

Breaking Night by Liz Murray
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Jan 12, 11

bookshelves: homeless, memoir, non-fiction, won, won-librarything
Read from October 16, 2010 to January 11, 2011

Liz Murray's story is well known, popularized by the New York Times and the Lifetime Movie Homeless to Harvard. Her memoir, Breaking Night, fills in the gritty details and they are very difficult to read.

Liz Murray was born to two heroin addicted parents. As one could guess the story goes from bad to worse with no money for food (as it goes towards drugs) the psychological problems of her mother, and the state always there waiting to send the children into a group home or with a foster family. Her mother also leaves her father for another man and Murray's life disintegrates.

Many have compared this memoir with Jeanette Walls The Glass Castle, but I feel Murray's story has a better narrative flow and the descriptions all the more vivid and disturbing. From the description of lice in her hair, to blood splatters all over the apartment (even on the Wonderbread) from her parents’ addiction, to eating rotten food her desperation is acute.

What is fascinating is watching her perspective change. When she realizes she may return to a group home, she decides to live on the streets instead. Her perspective changes and she realizes she is living her life day to day. Who can I stay with? Where can I eat? are always on her mind until she realizes she has no future. She must return to school so she can have a future, so that she doesn’t have the same life of her parents, people without options.

It is also inspirational how she chose to pursue a High School Diploma instead of a GED even though she was a 17 year old dropout with only one credit to her name. To watch her learn about all the things she would have missed. Make no mistake, Murray is a very intelligent girl, but with no one to help her, to push her, and to guide her, that mind would have been wasted if not for her resolve.

The story is inspirational and would serve as an excellent book for those who need to understand the value of education and how it gives one options. Options allow one to escape a cycle of poverty, options allow one to be anything they want to be, but it is hard work to keep those options open.


Favorite Passages:

They had no intention to hurt us. It wasn't as if they were running off during the daytime to be better parents to some other kids and then returning home at night to be awful to us. They simply did not have it in them to be the parents I wanted them to be. so how could I blame them?" p. 50

I admired how Kevin had found a way to do things on his own, how he looked at not having money--a situation that most people would see as fixed--as a challenge to overcome. What else wasn't set in stone? I wondered what other opportunities were out there for me" p. 90

Had I known when I left that there would be no going back, no returning to a roof over my head, I'm not sure I would have done it. After all, isn't that what really draws the line between childhood and adulthood, knowing that you are soley responsible for yourself? If so, then my childhood ended at fifteen"

"It's not like we were those homeless people you saw pushing shopping wagons full of sad things like picture frames, electronic parts, and bags of clothing. Such obviously broken people that you could guess, just by looking, what it was that bent and broke to get them there. Compared to them we were still lucky, without whole lives that needed pushing carts or carrying in bags that kept busting open..." p.191
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Reading Progress

11/07/2010 page 50
15.0% "They had no intention to hurt us. It wasn't as if they were running off during the daytime to be better parents to some other kids and then returning home at night to be awful to us. They simply did not have it in them to be the parents I wanted them to be. so how could I blame them?"
12/10/2010 page 90
27.0% "I admired how Kevin had found a way to do things on his own, how he looked at not having money--a situation that most people would see as fixed--as a challenge to overcome. What else wasn't set in stone? I wondered what other opportunities were out there for me"
12/21/2010
60.0% "Had I known when I left that there would be no going back, no returning to a roof over my head, I'm not sure I would have done it. After all, isn't that what really draws the line between childhood and adulthood, knowing that you are soley responsible for yourself? If so, then my childhood ended at fifteen"
01/01/2011 page 191
57.0% "It's not like we were those homeless people you saw pushing shopping wagons full of sad things like picture frames, electronic parts, and bags of clothing. Such obviously broken people that you could guess, just by looking, what it was that bent and broke to get them there. Compared to them we were still lucky, without whole lives that needed pushing carts or carrying in bags that kept busting open..."
01/07/2011 page 253
75.0% "#fridayreads"
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