Liz Murray

Breaking Night

  • 31-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 12 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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Breaking Night Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 31-page guide for “Breaking Night” by Liz Murray includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 12 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Forgiveness/Redemption and Addiction.

Plot Summary

Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard is a memoir that opens with an adolescent, Liz Murray, who is homeless. She describes a picture of her mother (her only surviving photograph), and compares her own physical features with her mother’s,then wonders if they were alike in other ways, seeing as how they were both homeless by the age of sixteen. A story about forgiveness and redemption after addiction and isolation, Breaking Night follows Liz through her childhood and formative years as she struggles to fit in and succeed in her goals.

Liz’s parents, Jeanie and Peter, spend their days getting high. Their apartment is filthy and the family rarely has enough food to eat because not only do they spend what little money they get on drugs, but it only comes in in drips and drabs, through welfare. As Liz starts school, she struggles with truancy, which contributes to the wedge driven between her and her sister, Lisa, with whom Liz unintentionally competes for her parents’ love, affection, and attention.

Liz is taken by Child Welfare Services and placed in a group home, after which she is released to her mother’s boyfriend, Brick. Brick is cruel and ultimately drives Liz out of his house. After that, Liz lives on the streets and in motels with her friend Sam and her boyfriend, Carlos, both in an attempt to get away from Brick and to avoid her mother’s terminal illness due to AIDS.

Carlos eventually starts using and dealing drugs, and his behavior turns violent toward Sam and Liz after Liz’s mother dies. They part ways several times before their breakup sticks, and Liz ends up getting a job canvassing for a non-profit organization after she applies to an alternative high school. She starts school and manages to earn top marks and finish in just two years, completing a year’s worth of high school each semester.

Liz then applies for scholarships and wins one from the New York Times, which publishes her story of homelessness and a childhood of neglect. Her story becomes a national phenomenon and earns her, Lisa, and Sam support from strangers not only across New York City, where they live, but throughout the country.

After being waitlisted at Harvard University, Liz is accepted, though she later leaves college to look after her father in his last years of his life, as he has also contracted HIV. Finally, she graduates, and designs courses to inspire others, finding success in sharing her story.

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