Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book Review: 'Breaking Night' by Liz Murray

✰✰✰✰ Growing up in poverty as the daughter of drug addicted parents, Liz Murray was destined to fail. Her family history included mental illness and homelessness; the odds were stacked against her. With little support and few resources as a child, she began bagging groceries for tips, pumping gas, and shoplifting just to get food. What she could not steal, she had to rely on the generosity of friends and neighbors for basic necessities like food and a place to sleep. Amazingly, even though she rarely attended school, Murray managed to squeak by until her truancy caught up with her.

Child welfare took her into custody at the age of thirteen. Vowing to never to be part of the system again, at the age of fifteen Murray took to the streets as her mother lay dying in the hospital from AIDS.  Dropping out of school completely, Murray focused on building her own family, her tribe. With friends from the neighborhood, school, and the streets including her sidekick, Sam, and drug dealing boyfriend, Carlos, Murray struggled to survive. Throughout it all, Murray did not pity herself, nor did she blame others for her situation.

After making many wrong choices and a few good ones, Liz’s determination to move forward finally began to pay off. She enrolled in an alternative high school, and completed four years of coursework in only two. Her struggles became hurdles to jump over one by one, again and again. Her next goal was to pursue a college degree, and not just anywhere but at Harvard University no less.

The Bottom Line: Author Liz Murray holds nothing back in this gritty memoir about the first nineteen years of her life. Her remarkable journey from the streets of the Bronx to the Ivy League will inspire readers to pursue their own dreams. By realizing that education was her way out, Murray overcame countless hurdles. Her story is one of desperation and survival; yet, it is also a story of determination, hope, and resiliency. She bravely and unabashedly shares her challenge to overcome the barriers of poverty and the stereotype of being homeless.

Highly recommended reading for everyone. This heartbreaking memoir inspires readers to take a second look at how we view both the homeless and ourselves. Once you have finished reading this deeply moving memoir, you’ll think about this book days, weeks, and even months later.

Note: While some readers may shy away from intense topics like sexual molestation and the graphic scenes where her parents shoot up, this book is appropriate for both college students and mature high school students in 11th or 12th grade. Nevertheless, it may be too graphic for sensitive readers.

Book Club Notes: Overall, Liz Murray's memoir was an engaging, inspirational book that was a very quick read for most. There are many turning points in this book that make it a great pick for book clubs. Incidents like pumping gas with Kevin, her decision to leave Carlos, and going to the interview at Prep instead of having pizza provided ample discussion opportunities. Also interesting were her relationships with her parents, sister, and friends. Although some of the scenes were too graphic for a few members, most approached this book with sincerity and an appreciation for what this young woman has both survived and achieved. We agreed that Murray's beautiful writing style was honest and authentic.
The average rating in the group was 4.5 stars. Some felt the book could have ended sooner while others longed for more information about the author's present life. Perhaps there will be another book in the future; there is certainly plenty of interest. Highly recommended for book clubs and college classrooms. Check out the following resources for your book club meeting: Hyperion Book Group Extra, Discussion Questions, and Liz Murray's FaceBook Page.

Details: Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard by Liz Murray. Paperback published by Hyperion in 2010. 352 p. ISBN: 978-1-4013-1059-2

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