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Breaking Night Kindle Fire by Liz Murray

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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 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.

Reviews Wow. I didn't think anything could be harder to read than Halse Anderson's "Wintergirls." This autobiography was well written, even lyrical, and the view so honest-- but it is very hard to read at times because it is a true story, and so heartbreaking. I guess part of me was angry-- the signs seemed so obvious: why didn't officials get involved sooner? The question is almost "why didn't they get involved, period??" Murray grew up, along with an older sister, to parents who were hooked on drugs. Her parents manage to remain sympathetic, but the things they do to get their fix are pretty horrible (selling her winter coat, hooking up with a man who turns out to be a child molester...) Murray relates many times when she and her sister went to bed hungry because her parents used the money they received from welfare on their next hit. Murray felt like an outcast at school because of her dirty clothes so frequently was truant. She managed to pass through her grade levels until high school. On her mother's death when she was 15, Murray took to the streets, relying on her friends for food and shelter (again I have to ask though-- why didn't the friends' parents report anything??) When she was 17, she realized she couldn't continue living the way she was, so she looked into schools again and was finally accepted into an alternate high school program. She manages to take enough classes -- getting straight A's -- and graduates in a year. All while homeless, living out of a backpack. Eventually she is accepted at Harvard and manages to get the grants and scholarships needed to attend. Her story is very inspiring... no, amazing. Do follow it with a comic chaser, though. As I said, this one was hard to get through, especially the first half.

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't let someone else tell you what something means, you decide yourself what it


means for you and your life. I liked how the author also took responsibility for her actions. She had a great way of calling herself out. She would say, "you know, if I had just gone to school when I was 14, the state never would've taken me away". I mean, she could've said something like "I should've gone to school, but it was just too hard! And the state didn't care to investigate why I wasn't going to school. I was treated badly!" But she doesn't have that attitude at all. She is very self aware of her part in all of her decisions. Finally, I liked how naive she was about huge things in her life. Like how she had no idea how big the New York Times was, and as such she didn't prepare a big presentation for them when she went in for a scholarship interview. That theme of naivete seems to run through her story, but again, she takes responsibility for it so it doesn't become whiny or a lament saying "poor me!". She just accepts that she didn't know these things before and this is how she reacted in a new situation. This is a good book, but if you get squeamish about drugs and the people that do them, you might now like this book.

This book will MESS you UP. If you have a heart it will, anyway. And for that, I almost gave it a 5 star, because it's a book that probably *should* mess you up. The author does a good job of making what she experienced growing up with extreme poverty and neglect relatable, while at the same time never letting me believe that I have ever really experienced anything even remotely like it. If that makes sense. I remember being embarrassed about things in school as a kid, so I can relate on some level to the passage where lice are jumping out of her hair onto her desk at school, and the kids are making fun of her for being so dirty. Which means I can also understand why she skips school most of the time, attracting the attention of social services. Even though I grew up able to shower multiple times a day if I wanted to, and loved going to school, and never had to fear that social services would take me from my parents if they saw how we lived. The funny scenes are few and far between, but very well done -- and incredibly rewarding. But nobody should read this book for the funny scenes.

I think what made this book as compelling as it was for me was the fact that the author was born just a couple of months after I was. When I think about her as a preschooler, the first time she witnessed her parents getting high without even attempting to hide it from their kids, or as a junior high aged girl, when her mother learned she had AIDS and moved out of the chaotic but familiar home their family shared, or as a high school senior, when she was homeless but working to get her degree and began to dream of attending Harvard, a world away from hers ... I think about my life in parallel. I can't even imagine seeing or experiencing the things she did, at almost the very same time in my own life. Her achievements are inspiring. The narrative of most of the book made for a very quick pace. Only at the end did it become a little, "And here's how you can do it!" For the most part, I can thoroughly recommend this read.

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