A Difficult, Yet Inspiring Memoir

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. ~ Liz Murray

So begins Liz Murray's book, Breaking Night: A Memoir about Forgiveness, Survival, and my Journey from Homeless to Harvard. The first sentence gripped me, and then her matter-of-fact prose style of telling her compelling story held me for the entire time I was (and even when I wasn't) reading the book. It kept getting worse… and then it got worse. I kept reading because I needed to know the end of the story. Liz Murray neither inflates nor deflates her story, which exposes the reader to the raw and stark reality of the circumstances of her childhood.

The last book that gripped me and held me in this same way was The Glass Castle. I was at Smith at the time, and I literally stayed up until the birds began to sing, and I had class to go to that morning. I had to put Breaking Night down sometimes, because I had to go to work, and because the book is 334 pages long. And sometimes I just needed a break, even though a part of me really wanted to keep going.

When I read Breaking Night, I realized my childhood might have been difficult, but Liz Murray's was absolutely horrendous. It is a great testament to just how much the human spirit can endure and still prevail — not only did Liz Murray survive her childhood, she is now thriving in the life she chose and created for herself. I can certainly relate to an important part in her book — when she vowed to turn her life around, she felt like she was starting with an empty slate and that she could choose what to put on that slate. That is pretty much how I felt the first time I left the Amish. And though she didn't actually write this in her book, I wonder, as Liz gets older, whether she will feel like I do, that she has lived two lives in one lifetime — the one she was born into and the one she chose.

Liz Murray now makes public appearances to inspire others. My guess is that for people who have read her story, she has to merely show up for that to happen.

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