Some of the B3 team was lucky enough to attend a breakfast featuring Liz Murray, as well as a number of other interesting authors at the annual New England Independent Booksellers Association conference. Liz Murray stood at the podium and unapologetically declared her nervous appreciation for the chance to speak about her intensely personal book to a group of industry insiders. In the thirty minutes she spoke, we were introduced to a young woman who is humble, forthright, anxious and endearing.
All of those attributes burst forth in print with her memoir Breaking Night.
The memoir released last month about her life growing up with drug-addicted parents in the Bronx. She has earned the moniker “Homeless to Harvard Girl” and even if it wasn’t her intention, it suits her story well.
Liz begins her story at the very beginning, even before her birth, when her mother was pregnant and her father was in jail. She was 3 years old when her father finally came home. Throughout her childhood, her parents spent the monthly welfare check on drugs, cocaine was their poison of choice and intravenous was their method of delivery.
Their coke habits left little money for Liz and her sister Lisa, clothing and toys were scavenged from the garbage and they could only count on one full meal a day for the first week of the month. By the middle of the month, Liz and her older sister were scrounging for cherry flavored chapstick to stave off the hunger pains.
Right about now, the reader should be feeling sorry for Liz but you don’t. Not that she doesn’t deserve your sympathy, her story is heart-breaking in many ways, but Liz never gives the impression that she is looking for sympathy. As bad it was, Liz still managed to remember that it could be worse. By school-age, Liz already possesses more empathy for her mother than most of us will ever possess.
She knows innately that even though her parents are failing her, and she needs to raise herself, her parents have lost their struggle against their own demons and just can’t be the parents that she deserves. One small blessing is, Liz, never having a functioning family, doesn’t really know what she is missing.
Admittedly, some tears were shed during the reading of this tale. There are several dramatic moments in young Liz’s life that are sad and shocking but the moments where she is mature beyond her years and quietly cares for her mother were the most emotionally gripping. Her poise when others souls would drown in despair is stunning is stunning to read.
As Liz grows up, her family deteriorates even further until there is barely a resemblance of a family at all. Family time might have meant mayo sandwiches in front the TV with her sister, while her parents were getting high on the couch but at least they were together. Throughout Liz’s adolescence, her mother is in and out of mental hospitals, her father is increasingly absent, the drug use continues, and finally Liz’s mother is diagnosed with AIDS.
As her moniker indicates, Liz ends up homeless and eventually a student at Harvard. As Murray says herself “her story is like the Titanic, you know how the story is going to end.” Knowing the ending makes the story even more potent. You know before you read the first page that as heart-breaking as her story is, she turns out alright in the end. Throughout the memoir, even at the darkest moments, there is a layer of hope.
It turns out our first impression over breakfast was true. Liz Murray is a humble, forthright, anxious, endearing young woman and her story is fascinating and hopeful.
Breaking Night by Liz Murray was received for free by the Boston Book Bums.