Liz Murray’s childhood was full of nightmarish experiences. Both of her parents were crack addicts who did nothing to hide their habit, leaving drug paraphernalia strewn about their filthy apartment. Each month the welfare check was spent in a matter of days, only a small portion of which went to purchasing groceries. Without enough food to eat and absolutely no structure, Liz began to slip through the cracks.
While her sister, Lisa, dealt with their chaotic life by imposing strict rules on herself, Liz ‘s life took a downward spiral. She felt responsible for making sure her parents were alright and subsequently began skipping school to take care of them. As her family falls apart, Liz’s truancy lands her in group home and eventually out on the streets full-time. After her mother dies from AIDS, Liz hits a breaking point and knows something has got to give:
My mind was racing. One minute I had a home, a family, a roof over my head, and loved ones to orient me in the world. And now I was on Sixty-fifth Street and Ma was dead, Daddy was gone, Lisa and I were separated. Everything was different. Life has a way of doing that; one minute everything makes sense, the next, things change. People get sick. Families break apart, your friends could close the door on you. The rapid changes I had experienced were hitting me hard as I sat there, and yet sadness wasn’t what came up in my gut…If life could change for the worst, I thought, then maybe it could change for the better. (p. 251)
Much of what Liz experiences is extremely difficult to read, but there is an overall message of hope in her story.