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

( 177 )

Overview

Breaking night: (Urban slang) staying up through the night, until the sun rises

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 a girls' home. At age ...

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

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Overview

Breaking night: (Urban slang) staying up through the night, until the sun rises

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 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 and go back to high school, often completing her assignments in the hallways and subway stations where she slept. Liz squeezed four years of high school into two, while homeless; won a New York Times scholarship; and made it into the Ivy League. Breaking Night is an unforgettable and beautifully written story of one young woman's indomitable spirit to survive and prevail, against all odds.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"From runaway to Harvard student, Murray tells an engaging, powerfully motivational story about turning her life around.... In this incredible story of true grit, Murray went from feeling like "the world was filled with people who were repulsed by me" to learning to receive the bountiful generosity of strangers who truly cared."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Truly uplifting ... Liz Murray has shown us the worst, and the very best, of America."—Haven Kimmel, author of A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off the Couch

"The admirable story of a teen who overcame homelessness through sheer grit and the kindness of friends ... An uplifting story of survival."—Kirkus Reviews

"Breaking Night reads more like an adventure story than an addiction-morality tale. It's a white-knuckle account of survival. . . . By age 6, Murray knew how to mainline drugs (though she never took them) and how to care for her strung-out parents. She showed uncanny maturity, even as a child, and later managed to avoid that malady of teenagers and memoir writers, self-pity. . . . Murray's stoicism has been hard-earned; it serves her well as a writer. Breaking Night itself is full of heart, without a sliver of ice, and deeply moving."—The New York Times Book Review

"Education was the miracle that saved Murray's life. . . . Her story is inspirational, and her description of [her high school], and its role in her life, should be read by everyone concerned about education."—Washington Post Book World

"Liz Murray shows us that the human spirit has infinite ability to grow and can never be limited by circumstance. Breaking Night is a beautifully written, heartfelt memoir that will change the way you look at your community, the obstacles in your own life, and the American Dream. An inspiration; a must-read."—Robert Redford

Haven Kimmel
"Truly uplifting ... Liz Murray has shown us the worst, and the very best, of America."
The New York Times Book Review
"Breaking Night reads more like an adventure story than an addiction-morality tale. It's a white-knuckle account of survival. . . . By age 6, Murray knew how to mainline drugs (though she never took them) and how to care for her strung-out parents. She showed uncanny maturity, even as a child, and later managed to avoid that malady of teenagers and memoir writers, self-pity. . . . Murray's stoicism has been hard-earned; it serves her well as a writer. Breaking Night itself is full of heart, without a sliver of ice, and deeply moving."
Washington Post Book World
"Education was the miracle that saved Murray's life. . . . Her story is inspirational, and her description of [her high school], and its role in her life, should be read by everyone concerned about education."
Robert Redford
"Liz Murray shows us that the human spirit has infinite ability to grow and can never be limited by circumstance. Breaking Night is a beautifully written, heartfelt memoir that will change the way you look at your community, the obstacles in your own life, and the American Dream. An inspiration; a must-read."
Juliet Wittman
Education was the miracle that saved Murray's life. She discovered a special high school created by a passionate teacher and a visionary union official. This school, coupled with her own extraordinary determination, allowed Murray to win admission to Harvard. Her story is inspirational, and her description of the school, and its role in her life, should be read by everyone concerned about education.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
From runaway to Harvard student, Murray tells an engaging, powerfully motivational story about turning her life around after growing up the neglected child of drug addicts. When Murray was born in 1980, her former beatnik father was in jail for illegally trafficking in prescription painkillers, and her mother, a cokehead since age 13, had just barely missed losing custody of their year-old daughter, Lisa. Murray and her sister grew up in a Bronx apartment that gradually went to seed, living off government programs and whatever was left after the parents indulged their drug binges; Murray writes that drugs were the "wrecking ball" that destroyed her family-- prompting her mother's frequent institutionalization for drug-induced mental illness and leading to her parents inviting in sexual molesters. By age 15, with the help of her best friend Sam and an elusive hustler, Carlos, she took permanently to the streets, relying on friends, sadly, for shelter. With the death of her mother, her runaway world came to an end, and she began her step-by-step plan to attend an alternative high school, which eventually led to a New York Times scholarship and acceptance to Harvard. In this incredible story of true grit, Murray went from feeling like "the world was filled with people who were repulsed by me" to learning to receive the bountiful generosity of strangers who truly cared. (Oct.)
Robert Redford
“Liz Murray shows us that the human spirit has infinite ability to grow and can never be limited by circumstance. Breaking Night is a beautifully written, heartfelt memoir that will change the way you look your community, the obstacles in your own life and the American Dream. An inspiration, a must read.”-- (Robert Redford)
Andrew Bridge
“[Liz Murray] reminds us that the greatest acts of love and failure can occur side by side; that isolation and loss can give way to accomplishment and promise. She offers the awesome hope that, regardless of its past, a life can go beyond endurance and reach for triumph. She leave us with the memory of a child who clung to and refused to surrender the dignity of her soul.” (Andrew Bridge, author of the New York Times bestseller Hope’s Boy)
Haven Kimmel
“As much as it is a memoir, Breaking Night is a primer on how poverty and drug abuse create a heartbreaking underclass of children, one that goes largely unnoticed. By the truly uplifting ending, Liz Murray has shown us the worst, and the very best, of America.” (Haven Kimmel, author of A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off the Couch)
Tara McKelvey
…reads more like an adventure story than an addiction-morality tale. It's a white-knuckle account of survival, marked by desperation, brutality and fear, set in the wilds of the Bronx…[Murray] showed uncanny maturity, even as a child, and later managed to avoid that malady of teenagers and memoir writers, self-pity…Murray's stoicism has been hard-earned; it serves her well as a writer…Breaking Night…is full of heart…and deeply moving.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews

The admirable story of a teen who overcame homelessness through sheer grit and the kindness of friends.

Murray's memoir of extreme poverty and eventual academic success begins with her unenviable childhood, during which her parents were drug addicts living in the decaying Bronx of the 1980s. While Murray's older sister was furious and distant regarding their life circumstances—which included a ritualized dependence on "check day"—the author so desired her parents' acceptance that she rationalized their addictions and poverty, even though it resulted in her being grotesquely unkempt and ostracized at school. Much of the narrative focuses on her mother, who "became giddy setting up their 'works' while she waited for Daddy to get back with the drugs." Murray's formative years become increasingly traumatic, as her mother was diagnosed with AIDS and then left her scholarly yet seedy father, who had served time in prison in the '70s for an elaborate prescription-forgery ring. Meanwhile, her disintegrating family's encounters with the state, including a stint in a group home for truancy, convinced the author that she would be better off homeless. "I had been inching my way onto the streets all along," she writes, "through my every run-in with premature independence." Murray left her mother's surly boyfriend's cramped apartment at age 15 and stayed in a motel with her first love, whom she eventually realized was a violent drug dealer and user. Despite her precarious circumstances, following her mother's death, the author re-engaged with the educational process at an alternative high school and received a prestigious New York Times–sponsored scholarship and acceptance to Harvard. Murray ably captures the fearful, oppressive monotony of being a homeless teen, constantly hustling for places to stay, and her tale is a disturbing reminder of lives lost to addiction and poverty. However, the narrative's effectiveness is undermined by a plodding pace and by reconstructed dialogue that feels artificial and unconvincing.

An uplifting story of survival, often marred by maudlin writing.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781401310592
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 5/24/2011
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,349
  • Product dimensions: 5.06 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

LIZ MURRAY was left homeless at age 15 after her mother's death from AIDS. She fended for herself on the streets, eventually returning to high school. She was accepted into Harvard, where she attended college classes for three years before taking time off to help her father, who died of AIDS. She returned to college, and is now taking graduate courses at Harvard. Liz gives speaking engagements around the country. A movie about her life, Homeless to Harvard, was made by Lifetime in 2003, and airs frequently.

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First Chapter

Breaking Night

A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard
By LIZ MURRAY

HYPERION

Copyright © 2010 Liz Murray
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7868-6891-9


Chapter One

University Avenue

THE FIRST TIME DADDY FOUND OUT ABOUT ME, IT WAS FROM BEHIND glass during a routine visit to prison, when Ma lifted her shirt, teary-eyed, exposing her pregnant belly for emphasis. My sister, Lisa, then just over one year old, sat propped against Ma's hip.

Reflecting on this time in her life, Ma would later explain, "It wasn't supposed to turn out that way, pumpkin. It wasn't like me and Daddy planned for this."

Even though she'd been on her own and in trouble with drugs since age thirteen, Ma insisted, "Daddy and me were gonna turn around. Somewhere down the line, we were gonna be like other people. Daddy was gonna get a real job. I was gonna be a court stenographer. I had dreams."

Ma used coke, shooting dissolved white dust into her veins; it traveled through her body much like lightning, igniting her, giving the feel, however fleeting, of something forward-moving, day in and day out.

"A lift," she called it.

She started using as a teenager; her own home had been a place of anger, violence, and abuse.

"Grandma was just nuts, Lizzy. Pop would come home drunk and beat the crap out of us, with anything-extension cords, sticks, whatever. She would just go clean the kitchen, humming, like nothing was happening. Then just act like Mary-friggin-Poppins five minutes later, when we were all busted up."

The oldest of four children, Ma often spoke of the guilt she harbored for finally leaving the abuse-and her siblings-behind. She went out on the streets when she was just thirteen.

"I couldn't stay there, not even for Lori or Johnny. At least they had mercy on Jimmy and took him away. Man, you bet your ass I had to get out of there. Being under a bridge was better, and safer, than being there."

I had to know what it was Ma did under bridges.

"Well, I dunno, pumpkin, me and my friends all hung out and talked ... about life. About our lousy parents. About how we were better off. We talked ... and I guess we got high, and after that, it didn't matter where we were."

Ma started out small, smoking grass and sniffing glue. During the years of her adolescence, moving between friends' couches and earning her living through teen prostitution and odd jobs like bike messengering, she moved on to speed and heroin.

"The Village was a wild place, Lizzy. I had these thick, tall leather boots. And I didn't care if I was skinny as hell; I wore short shorts and a cape down my back. Yeah, that's right, a cape. I was cool, too. Jivin', man. That's how we used to talk. Pumpkin, you should have seen me."

By the time Ma met Daddy, coke had become a popular seventies trend, alongside hip-huggers, muttonchops, and disco music. Ma described Daddy at the time they first hooked up as "dark, handsome, and smart as hell."

"He just got things, ya know? When most of the guys I hung around didn't know their ass from their elbow, your father had something about him. I guess you could say he was sharp."

Daddy came from a middle-class, Irish Catholic family in the suburbs. His father was a shipping boat captain and a violent alcoholic. His mother was a hardworking and willful woman who refused to put up with what she called "foolishness" from men.

"All you need to know about your grandfather, Lizzy, is that he was a nasty, violent drunk who liked to bully people," Daddy once told me, "and your grandmother didn't tolerate it. She didn't care how unpopular divorce was back then, she got herself one." Unfortunately for Daddy, when his parents' marriage ended, his father left him, and he never came back.

"He was a real piece of work, Lizzy. It's probably better he wasn't around, things weren't easy and he only would have made them worse."

People who knew Daddy when he was growing up describe him as a lonely child and a "hurt soul" who never seemed to get over his father's abandonment and his resulting status as "latchkey kid." His mother took on a demanding full-time job to make ends meet and she worked long hours while Daddy was mostly alone, searching for an outlet, someone or something to connect with. Most nights, he spent evenings by himself, or in the homes of friends, where he became a fixture in other people's families. Back at his house, he and Grandma grew distant, and things were mostly serious and silent between them.

"Your grandmother wasn't the talkative type," he told me one day, "which was very Irish Catholic of her. In our family, if you said the words 'I feel,' they better be followed with 'hungry' or 'cold.' Because we didn't get personal, that's just how it was."

But what Grandma lacked in warmth, she made up for in her tireless devotion to securing her son's future. Determined not to let Daddy suffer from the absence of his father, Grandma set out to give him the best education she could afford. She worked two bookkeeping jobs in order to put her only child through the best Catholic schools on Long Island. At Chaminade, a school with a reputation for being rigorous and elite, Daddy shared classes and a social life with a more well-to-do crowd than he'd ever known existed. Most of his classmates were given new cars as gifts on their sixteenth birthdays, while Daddy took two buses to school, his mother praying that the monthly tuition check wouldn't clear through the bank before her paycheck did.

The irony was, as much as this upper-class, private school setting was meant to position Daddy for a life of success, instead, it would put my father at odds with himself forever: in this environment he became both well-educated and a drug addict.

Throughout his late teen years, Daddy read the great American classics; vacationed in his classmates' beachfront summer homes, ignoring his mother's incessant phone calls; and as a pastime, popped amphetamines beneath the bleachers of the high school football field.

Though he'd always been quick to learn and absorbed much of his rigorous education, the drugs made it hard to concentrate in school, so he slacked on homework and dozed in class. In his last year, Daddy applied and was admitted to a college located right in the heart of New York City. When graduation rolled around, he just barely squeaked by. Manhattan was meant to be his real start in life, college his springboard. But it wasn't long before his high school setting recast itself around him, except now he was older and not in the suburbs of Baldwin, New York, but in the center of everything. In a few years' time, Daddy came to apply his aptitude more toward peddling drugs than his college work. Slowly, he rose to the top ranks of a small clique of drug pushers. Being the most educated member of the group, he was nicknamed "the professor," and was looked to for guidance. He was the one who drew blueprints for the group's schemes.

Daddy abandoned school when he was two years into a graduate degree in psychology, a time during which he also gained some experience in social work, earning slightly above minimum wage. But the upkeep involved maintaining two very separate lives-a legitimate attempt at the "straight life" versus the "high life"-required too much effort. His lucrative drug earnings had a gravity far too powerful; it simply outweighed what an average life seemed to offer. So he rented an East Village apartment and worked full-time in the drug trade, surrounded by odd, lower-Manhattan types with criminal records and gang affiliations-his "crew." It so happened that Ma was hitting the same scene, right around this same time, floating in the same offbeat crowd.

Years down the line, they connected at a mutual friend's loft apartment. Speed and coke were distributed as casually as soft drinks, and people discoed the night away surrounded by soft glowing lava lamps, the air perfumed by incense. They'd met a few times before, when Daddy'd dealt Ma speed or heroin. Coming from the streets, Ma's first impressions of Daddy were something like an encounter with a movie star.

"You just had to see the way your father worked the room," she'd tell me. "He called all the shots, commanded respect." When they hooked up, Ma was twenty-two and Daddy was thirty-four. Ma dressed for the seventies, in flower-child blouses and nearly invisible short-shorts. Daddy described her as radiant and wild-looking with long, wavy black hair and bright, piercing amber eyes. Daddy said he took one look at her and loved her innocence, yet also her toughness and her intensity. "She was unpredictable," he said. "You couldn't tell if she was calculating or totally naïve. It was like she could go either way."

They connected immediately, and in many ways became like any other new couple, passionate and eager to be with each other. But instead of taking in movies or hitting restaurants, shooting up was their common ground. They used getting high to find intimacy. Slowly, Ma and Daddy abandoned their crowds to be together, taking long walks down Manhattan streets, clasping hands, warming up to each other. They carried small baggies of cocaine and bottles of beer to Central Park, where they perched on hilltops to sprawl out in the moonlight and get high, anchored in each other's arms.

If my parents' lives had held different degrees of promise before they met, it didn't take long for their paths to run entirely parallel. The premature start of our family leveled them, when they began living together in early 1977. Lisa, my older sister, was born in February 1978, when Ma was twenty-three.

In Lisa's infancy, my parents initiated one of Daddy's more lucrative drug scares. The plot involved faking the existence of a doctor's office in order to legitimize the purchase of prescription painkillers that Daddy said were "strong enough to knock out a horse." Typically reserved for cancer patients on hospice, just one of the tiny pills had a street value of fifteen dollars. On his graduate student clientele alone, Daddy could use phony prescriptions to unload hundreds of these pills per week, earning Ma and Daddy thousands of dollars every month.

Daddy went through great pains to avoid getting caught. Patience and attention to detail would keep them out of jail, he insisted. "It had to be done right," he said. Meticulously, Daddy used the phone book along with maps of all five boroughs of New York City to carefully create a schedule of pharmacies they would hit systematically, week by week. The riskiest part of the scare, by far, was actually walking into the pharmacy to collect on a prescription, a task made riskier by the pharmacist's legal obligation to phone doctors and verify all "scripts" for pain pills as strong as these.

Daddy devised a way to intercept pharmacists' calls. The phone company at the time didn't verify doctors' credentials, so Daddy frequently ordered and abandoned new phone numbers under names he picked out of thin air, or sometimes he drew ideas from his former professors, Dr. Newman, Dr. Cohen, and Dr. Glasser. The pharmacists did indeed reach a doctor at the other end of their phone calls; a secretary even patched them through. But really it was only Ma and Daddy working together as a team. They worked long days, utilizing rent-by-the-week rooms in flophouses across New York City while friends cared for Lisa, who at that time was only a few months old.

The prescriptions themselves Daddy created with the help of his crew. He gave friends in a printing shop a cut of his profits in exchange for an ongoing supply of illegal, custom-made rubber stamps bearing the names of the phony doctors and a supply of legitimate-looking prescription pads. With the help of his connections, and for the cost of twenty-five dollars per pad, Daddy transformed blank prescriptions into gold, a stamp-by-stamp moneymaking machine. By design, Daddy said, his plan was "airtight" and would have continued to work if not for Ma's slipup.

Though he did claim responsibility for at least half of the mistake, admitting, "We never should have been using from our own supply, that's a rookie move. Getting hooked on your own stash fogs your head, makes you desperate."

But there was no way to tell whether it was Ma's addiction that made her desperate enough to ignore the obvious red flag, or if it was simply Ma's typical impatience. Daddy had been careful to warn Ma of the signs that a pharmacist was onto you: surely, if you dropped off a prescription for highly suspicious pain reeds at a pharmacy one entire day prior, there could only be one reason for a pharmacist to instruct you to wait twenty additional minutes when you arrived-he was calling the police, and you should get out of there as fast as possible. Daddy had warned Ma of this scenario, made it perfectly clear.

But on the day of her arrest, Ma, who was known for being relentless and never backing down from something she wanted, would later explain, "I just couldn't not come back, Lizzy. There was a chance he was gonna give me the pills, ya know? I had to try." She was handcuffed in broad daylight and marched unceremoniously into a nearby police cruiser by an officer who had responded to the call hoping (correctly) that he would catch the criminals responsible for hitting countless pharmacies throughout the five boroughs. Unknowingly, Ma was already pregnant with me.

For over a year, the Feds had been compiling evidence that included a paper trail and a string of security camera footage that undeniably linked Ma and Daddy to nearly every pharmacy hit. If that wasn't enough, when the Feds kicked in the door to arrest Daddy, they found bags of cocaine and dozens of pills littered across the tabletop of their East Village apartment, along with luxury items like a closetful of mink furs, dozens of leather shoes, leather coats, gold jewelry, thousands of dollars in cash, and even a glass tank holding an enormous Burmese python.

Daddy, who had orchestrated and executed the majority of their illegal activities, was hit with numerous counts of fraud, including impersonating a doctor. On his day in court, for dramatic effect, the prosecution wheeled into the courthouse three shopping carts brimming with prescriptions, all of which bore Daddy's handwriting and fraudulent stamps. "Anything to say for yourself, Mr. Finnerty?" the judge asked. "No, Your Honor," he said. "I think that speaks for itself."

In all of this, they almost lost custody of Lisa permanently, but Ma maintained strict attendance in a parental reform program in the months between her arrest and her eventual sentencing. This, combined with a very pregnant belly on her day in court, solicited just enough leniency to get her set free.

Daddy wasn't so lucky. He received a three-year sentence. He was transported from holding to Passaic County Jail in Patterson, New Jersey, the day Ronald Reagan was elected president.

On the day Ma was to be sentenced, she brought with her two cartons of cigarettes and a roll of quarters, certain that she would do time. But in a move that surprised everyone in the courthouse, right down to Ma's lawyer, the judge looked her over with pity, then merely ordered probation and called the next case.

The bail money, one thousand dollars-the very last of my parents' earnings from their heyday-was released to her in a check on her way out the door.

Check in hand, Ma saw an opportunity to start over, and she took it. The bail went for cans of fresh paint, thick curtains, and wall-to-wall carpeting for every room in our three-bedroom Bronx apartment on University Avenue, in what would soon become one of the most crime-ridden areas in all of New York City.

I was born on the first day of autumn, at the end of a long heat wave that had the neighborhood kids forcing open the fire hydrants for relief, and had Ma lodging loud, buzzing fans in every window. On the afternoon of September 23, 1980, Daddy-in holding, but awaiting his sentence-received a phone call from Charlotte, my mother's mother, informing him that his daughter had been born, with drugs in her system but no birth defects. Ma hadn't been careful during either pregnancy, but both Lisa and I were lucky. I peed all over the nurse and was declared healthy at nine pounds, three ounces.

"She looks like you, Peter. Has your face."

From his cell later that night, Daddy named me Elizabeth. Because Daddy and Ma were never legally married and he wasn't there to verify paternity, I got Ma's last name, Murray.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Breaking Night by LIZ MURRAY Copyright © 2010 by Liz Murray. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 179 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 19, 2012

    Inspiring and Empowering! Breaking Night is an inspiring &

    Inspiring and Empowering!

    Breaking Night is an inspiring & empowering book. Liz Murray’s writing is so descriptive and eloquent. I felt I was there with her throughout all of her experiences. Liz’s success story stems from the power of forgiveness, compassion and community. Her journey of growing up with drug addicted parents, being homeless in her teenage years, and finally graduating from Harvard, is a true testament that forgiveness and community can shift a person’s reality. Liz forgave her parents for not being present in her childhood, and had friends/teachers who supported her during her homeless period. She didn’t listen to her thoughts that encouraged her to give up – she kept going for her life, learning respect, diligence and compassion along the way. I feel so enlivened by reading this book. It is beautifully written – a love story about life.

    I also recommend Ariel & Shya Kanes’ How to Have a Match Made in Heaven. This book is full of true stories of people who find forgiveness, compassion and kindness for themselves. After reading this book, I have found all my relationships (especially my relationship with myself) to be truly magical and full of love. There are also video links included in the book so you can actually see the people you read about!

    If you want to experience the success you have dreamed is possible (in all areas of your life), I highly recommend both Liz Murray’s and the Kanes’ books for your library.

    25 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 10, 2010

    this book made me a better teacher

    I once heard Liz Murray speak and made sure to pick up Breaking Night the morning it came out. Her speech was so powerful I never forgot her and I bought her memoir hoping to be similarly moved. I've been reading it on my morning commute and before bed all week and I can't put it down. It's heartbreaking, and beautiful. The story just moves. I'm on page 302 now, nearing the end and the reminder/lesson I'm beginning to take away: no student is a throw away. Each and every student deserves to be treated like they have a chance at a better life. Liz was a "goth" student, hair in her face, dressed all in black, she used to sit in the back of the classroom and hide. The truth is, over the years I've given less time and attention to these students, and I justified it by telling myself THEY needed to change, not me. Breaking Night is a wake up call for me as a teacher, opening my eyes to see that my job is to be my students' biggest advocate, instead of yet another adult casting doubt on them. Liz had teachers who did and did not believe in her and the contrast in the impact they made in her young life is striking. Not only do I recommend Breaking Night to any teacher who has ever felt burnt out and in need of a reminder of why what you do is SO important...but I also recommend Breaking Night to any student who has ever thought of giving up on themselves. This book should be required reading in high schools for teachers and students alike. It holds us all to higher standards.

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2013

    This book was a total disappointment. A story of a young woman w

    This book was a total disappointment. A story of a young woman who chose to be homeless rather than live with her mother and her mother's boyfriend or to live in a group home; who chose not to attend school for essentially her entire elementary school years and then was lucky enough to get into an "alternative high school" where after 2 years she earned a high school diploma. She went from not knowing where Europe was 2 years before to being Harvard caliber student Really? Is she an inspiration to homeless youth? No, she won the lottery and Harvard has played that card - they will continue to recruit A+ students who receive perfect scores on their SAT's and who publish books, or concertize or play on the pro golf circuit as their incoming freshman. She wonders why her sister is indifferent to her or unwilling to discuss the book? - because her sister like so many underprivileged children moved through the system and worked hard. Got a mediocre education from an overcrowded public schools and then despite those odds went to a city college and got a degree. But she will never have the doors open for her the way her sister does with the Harvard degree. Despite making her living as an "inspirational speaker" she should know that inspiration comes from within. In my opinion the admirable people are those that fought that way through overcrowded schools where graduating classes are over 1000 with as few as 2 guidance counselors who attempt to help get kids placed; in reality most kids never meet the guidance counselor, never know about scholarships or loans or any of the options that may be available to them. Those few that make it to college and graduate school and rise above their limitations - those are admirable people. This is just someone who won the lottery and is still capitalizing on it with her Homeless to Harvard biography and website - if you want to read a book about an admirable family who pursues education to the utmost read Gifted Hands the Ben Carson biography.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2010

    This book is life-affirming!

    I work with youth for a living as a counselor in a group home for girls, ages 13-18 and I am always amazed a how resilient they can be. I've seen so many children grow up just like Liz did, abused, neglected, with their parents on drugs, and while most of them don't end up in major universities, it's still incredible how so many of them are able to function as normal people, despite their circumstances. I've seen young people able to trust, to have steady jobs, to get their GED. I am so proud of Liz, and so proud of the young people I work with.

    Breaking Night is life-affirming, and beautifully written. If you work with young people, you'll love this book. Thank you for writing such an amazing memoir Liz. I'm going to share it with all the young people in my group home. Kudos!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 17, 2010

    WOW!!

    I had no idea that children grow up like this in the United States. As a child Liz was starving and forced to watch her parents shoot up their welfare money while she and her sister went without. Yet for some reason she's not angry at them and instead she talks about drugs as the "wrecking ball" tearing through her family. She writes about the experience as though it's not only happening to her but also happening to her parents too. She's not mad at them. Liz felt loved by them, and she forgives their mistakes.

    This is so powerful for me because I struggled for many years with drug and alcohol addiction and it also destroyed my family. Breaking Night seems like it was written for parents and children dealing with the impact of drug and alcohol addiction. They should have this book in every Al-anon and AA center in the country. It shows us that there is life beyond our pain. It shows up that we can heal and forgive, and move on.

    Liz, thank you.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 16, 2010

    Couldn't put it down

    My wife put this book in my hands and insisted I read it. The thing about Breaking Night is that I expected to this woman to feel sorry for herself. Her parents used drugs, contracted AIDS and she ends up homeless. But instead of feeling sorry for herself, Liz just moved through every obstacle life put in front of her and her writing moves in the same way. It just plows forward. I could not put this book down and when I was done I found myself cheering for Liz, moved by her choices and inspired to take on bigger challenges in my own life.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 29, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Fabulous Read!!

    I highly recommend this book! It is so inspiring and truthful. If you enjoy reading books about tough real life situations then this is a great choice for you. Her life is extremely interesting and really makes you think. I always search reviews of books before purchasing books so if you are like me listen to this review and buy it. My only problem with this book is that I agree with other reviewers that the ending is somewhat abrupt and left me wanting more. I wish she would write a sequel with more about her life now. Definitely read this book!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2014

    This novel was unexpected and upsetting because it was a real li

    This novel was unexpected and upsetting because it was a real life experience. Liz Murray’s novel, Breaking Night is a memoir based upon her entire childhood and living with her parents and her sister, Lisa. Her parents were loving in her life but were addicted to drugs which lead the girls to live their own life. They were homeless because their parents always spent their money on drugs instead of basic necessities for themselves and their daughters. Liz had a rough life while growing up in which she explains throughout the entire novel. The main theme of this book is forgiving and succeeding. Liz shows both of these traits by making the reader believe that anything is possible, even when coming from a miserable life, like her own.
    Liz grew up with her parents who never tried to help her succeed. Since her parents did not care, this lead Liz to not care about life. By not caring, Liz would skip school and feel like there would be no consequences. Liz was homeless by age thirteen and she would lose sleep, meals and basic hygiene needs. She explained how at thirteen, “Child Welfare took me into care” and how she was stuck with other girls with “problems” and how she was evaluated on everything that she does. Liz talks about how everyone in Bronx, where she grew up, warned everyone about the child welfare and to stay away. During this homeless stage in her life, she watched her mother die of AIDS. She then later becomes much more successful. She has a huge wake-up call when her mother dies. Although, as a reader, this part of the novel is somewhat upsetting, there is a complete change which makes the mood much lighter and reassuring. Liz goes on to finish high school and then continues her education onto Harvard. That change was completely unexpected because Liz had such a horrible life growing up.
    Liz Murray helps the reader realize that at any time in life, it can be completely flipped and turn out better. Liz is proof that there is no such thing as a life that cannot be changed. She changes her life which is inspiring and also informative. It is obvious in the novel that these challenges cannot be overcome by just anyone, but they can be overcome by someone who is determined. By reading this novel, I have learned to appreciate what I have more because I take eating meals and bathing every day for granted. I learned to also appreciate the support of my family along with having a good education. I cannot say that I have ever experienced any of Liz’s specific problems, I feel like I can put myself in her shoes and make myself feel more fortunate and appreciate everything I have. In order to watch how Liz struggles and overcomes each difficulty in her life, you will have to read the novel to learn how to succeed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 23, 2011

    Interesting but...

    it ended too quickly and abruptly. I felt like something was missing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 18, 2011

    Educators Must!

    Anyone in the education field should read this book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2011

    Inspiring

    This was a well-written memoir- I was equally awed and horrified by Liz's life story- her family, ability to forgive, casualness in conveying the difficulties she faced every day. I was a little surprised at how quickly it ended and was left wondering...is she writing a Part 2??

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 10, 2011

    Difficult Lesson of Survival and Triump

    This book is an unfortunate and graphic tale of what like is really like for some our young people. Well written but sometimes repetitious.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Extremely Interesting And Inspirational!

    WOW!  What an interesting book filled with insight into poverty, homelessness and drug addiction!  Breaking Night is the memoir of Liz Murray who shares about her life of living with her drug addicted parents, her effort to protect her parents who both contracted AIDS, living at a group home, her dependence on friends while homeless, her determination to go back to school and change her life.  This is a very good book!  It is so hard for me to fathom people actually living like she did.

    Breaking Night shows that a person can change in spite of one's circumstances if they make good choices and work hard.  It is about family relationships, forgiveness, friendship, judging by appearances, survival, overcoming obstacles and being responsible.  Liz overcame many obstacles and found herself with a scholarship from The New York Times and was accepted at Harvard!  Liz is a remarkable person! This is an inspirational book that I highly recommend!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Great quick read!

    Inspiring story, good, quick and entertaining read. Of course it is well written giving that she went to Harvard and she lays out the background for the story to unfold without being boring. Would definitely recommend!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2011

    Finished with tears in my eyes

    Get this book. It's about a girl who grows up with two parents addicted to drugs and how she overcomes the severe adversity she encounters when both her parents are diagnosed with HIV, a situation that results in her homelessness as a teen. How this woman made it into Harvard off of the streets is beyond me. But perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that she did it without an ounce of bitterness toward her parents, and with nothing but love and forgiveness in her heart.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 20, 2010

    You will NOT put this down!!

    If you are facing any kind of difficulty in life, this is the book that you need. I am forever changed after devouring this book in one sitting. Ms. Murray draws you in the grip of a painful past and does not relinquish you until you've witnessed her redemption. The circumstances she faced may seem extreme, but it's simply a reminder that we are ALL capable of overcoming what life throws at us. I believe in this book, and I promise, you will NOT be disappointed.

    Youtube has a great video review on this book, type Breaking Night Liz Murray in the search engine.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2014

    An absolute MUST read. A story of overcoming a life of struggles

    An absolute MUST read. A story of overcoming a life of struggles. All I can say is Wow. Liz, thank you for sharing your story and inspiring me. Don't walk, run to get this book. You won't be disappointed.

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  • Posted April 26, 2014

    Unbelievable true story! Caught me from the beginning.

    Unbelievable true story! Caught me from the beginning.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2013

    I've been waiting for years to find a memoir as powerful as The

    I've been waiting for years to find a memoir as powerful as The Glass Castle and THIS IS IT! I couldn't put it down and every detail, every memory sent me on a powerful, searing emotional trip. This book will stay with me forever and I'll definitely be adding it to my favorites and "recommend to others" list.

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  • Posted August 6, 2013

    Spectacular, motivating, must read.

    Breaking Night was simultaneously hard to put down, yet often hard to keep reading. Liz Murray's candor about the squalor she grew up in and her personal journey to success is so inspiring and humbling. She gave me a much better idea of what might be going on in the lives of so many teens that I may have judged in the past, but now look at with compassion and well wished. This should be required reading for every parent and every teenager.

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