Book Case
A Testament to Human Resilience
Psychiatric News
Volume 46 Number 12 page 15-34

Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey From Homeless to Harvard

By Liz Murray


334 pages

Liz Murray's memoir, Breaking Night, is a fast-paced adventure story of survival in the face of horrific circumstances. Murray was raised in a crime-ridden neighborhood in the New York City borough of the Bronx by drug-addicted parents. She tells her life story in a matter-of-fact manner that shows an uncanny degree of maturity. She avoids that malady of teenagers and so many memoir writers—self-pity. Written as an adult after graduating from college, her adventure story is neither self-pitying nor trite.

Murray's earliest childhood memory is of sitting outside her parents' closed kitchen door listening to the clanging of spoons and rushed voices. She recalls seeing her parents emerge and shouting eagerly, "All done!" Her parents eventually included Murray in their drug-taking activities, which made Murray feel included and even happy as a child. She yearned to receive attention from her parents who most of the time neglected to feed, clothe, and care for her. Murray knew how to mainline drugs by the age of 6, but remarkably, she never took drugs herself.

Murray came to consider drugs as the "wrecking ball" that destroyed her family. Her parents' drug use brought crime into the family, as well as unwanted child-welfare investigators, her mother's frequent psychiatric hospitalizations, and AIDS. Murray was subjected to child molesters, predators, and eventually homelessness.

In Breaking Night, Murray chronicles her days as a homeless teenager after she ran away from the group homes she was placed in by child-welfare workers and as a student at the Humanities Preparatory Academy in Manhattan. Her mother died when Murray was a teenager, and her father lived in a shelter for homeless men. Through tenacity and grit, Murray discovered that she was a worthwhile and talented individual. She eventually wrote an essay about her experiences that won her a New York Times College Scholarship. She inspired a movie, "Homeless to Harvard," which was broadcast on the Lifetime cable network. Murray was accepted into Harvard, from which she graduated, and she is now a motivational speaker. Murray is a survivor, like many of our patients, and a testament to the courage and abilities that are inherent in people even under the most harrowing of circumstances. 15_2.inline-graphic-1.gif


  • Helen M. Farrell, M.D., is a forensic psychiatry fellow at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine.

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