50 Book Challenge

Book #16: Breaking Night

Title: Breaking Night
Author: Liz Murray
Genre: Memoir
# of Pages: 329

I don’t normally go for memoirs (not for any particular reason), but when I heard my Ethnic Lit teacher last semester talking about how excited she was to read this book based on a true story about a girl who went from being homeless at 16 to graduating from Harvard, I couldn’t get my mind off of it. For several months, I kept trying to remember the title of the book, but to no avail. Finally, one day I got the brilliant notion of just typing in “Homeless to Harvard” into Google and found exactly what I was looking for. Aren’t I so resourceful?

Anyway, I snatched this book up the first (guiltless) chance I got: one of the rare days when Barnes & Noble offers 50% off all bestsellers when you order online. Even though I had other books I should probably have been reading before this one, I couldn’t resist it.

I’m so glad I didn’t put it off.

Breaking Night is the inspiring story of Liz Murray, a girl who grew up to two parents who were addicted to crack and who both contracted AIDS through their drug use. By the time she was sixteen, Liz’s living situation had gotten so bad that she ran away from home. Before being homeless, she had been put into a group home for not attending school. After getting out of the group home, she tried to go to high school again but could not force herself to have the discipline to attend regularly enough to pass. By the middle of her 9th grade year, she had officially dropped out and spent her days trying to find enough food to eat and a place to spend the night.

At 17, she left an abusive relationship to fend for herself. During that period of spending nights alternating between friends’ houses and stairwells, she found within herself the need to do something more with her life. Even though it seemed that all doors had been closed to her from the beginning and all the obstacles too great to overcome, she started trying to re-enter any alternative high school that would take her. When one finally took mercy and accepted her, she decided right then and there to start afresh and not make the same mistakes she did the first time. The story’s ending is so triumphant I felt like crying in the middle of USU’s library between tutoring appointments.

This memoir is inspiring and heartwrenching–you won’t be able to put it down. Murray has the delicate gift of being able to talk about depressing subject matter in a non-depressing way; she never makes herself out to be a victim, and her writing is straightforward, stoic (in a good way), and completely compelling. And although she dealt with mountains of negative experiences, she very tastefully talks about her experiences in her memoir–there is hardly any language at all, and she doesn’t go into any explicit details that would have made me too uncomfortable. I found myself rooting for her against all odds, and now I’m inspired to search out the movie that was made of her life.

Trust me, you want to check out this book–you’ll never look at the world (or your own situation growing up) in quite the same way again.

My Rating: 5 stars

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