The admirable story of a teen who overcame homelessness through sheer grit and the kindness of friends.
Murray’s memoir of extreme poverty and eventual academic success begins with her unenviable childhood, during which her parents were drug addicts living in the decaying Bronx of the 1980s. While Murray’s older sister was furious and distant regarding their life circumstances—which included a ritualized dependence on “check day”—the author so desired her parents' acceptance that she rationalized their addictions and poverty, even though it resulted in her being grotesquely unkempt and ostracized at school. Much of the narrative focuses on her mother, who “became giddy setting up their ‘works’ while she waited for Daddy to get back with the drugs.” Murray’s formative years become increasingly traumatic, as her mother was diagnosed with AIDS and then left her scholarly yet seedy father, who had served time in prison in the ’70s for an elaborate prescription-forgery ring. Meanwhile, her disintegrating family’s encounters with the state, including a stint in a group home for truancy, convinced the author that she would be better off homeless. “I had been inching my way onto the streets all along,” she writes, “through my every run-in with premature independence.” Murray left her mother’s surly boyfriend's cramped apartment at age 15 and stayed in a motel with her first love, whom she eventually realized was a violent drug dealer and user. Despite her precarious circumstances, following her mother's death, the author re-engaged with the educational process at an alternative high school and received a prestigious New York Times–sponsored scholarship and acceptance to Harvard. Murray ably captures the fearful, oppressive monotony of being a homeless teen, constantly hustling for places to stay, and her tale is a disturbing reminder of lives lost to addiction and poverty. However, the narrative’s effectiveness is undermined by a plodding pace and by reconstructed dialogue that feels artificial and unconvincing.
An uplifting story of survival, often marred by maudlin writing.