This is a memoir of survival and forgiveness and journeying from homeless to Harvard.
It is remarkable what some children live through. Lizzy grew up in the Bronx and somehow survived her parents’ drug addiction and what that meant for her – being a caretaker at a young age, constantly being dirty and hungry, and being teased at school about her lice-infested hair. Her family fell apart when she was 13 and she dropped out of school and lived on the streets. It is a miracle she was not raped or mugged or anything worse as she slept at various friends’ houses, in cheap motels and stair landings, and on the subway and rooftops.
The story is quite detailed, almost day-to-day, from preschool to age 20 or so. It provides a good picture of the life of a “clean” homeless teen. Most of the writing is straightforward and not lyrical and flowery. A few passages, toward the end of the story, especially, stuck with me.
I was inspired by a question that kept repeating itself in my mind: Could I really change my life? I’d spent so many days, weeks, months, and years thinking about doing things with my life, and now I wanted to know, if I committed to a goal and woke up every single day working at it, could I change my life?
I had to study while also learning how to study. I wrote an essay… while learning about essay writing, and while learning how to type, all at once. I did so by tapping a single button at a time, frustrating myself with countless mistakes, messing up and starting again and again and again.
This was the environment in which I finally came to my education, the environment in which I knew I could no longer lie in bed and give up. How could I pull the blanket back over my head when I knew my teachers were waiting for me? When they were willing to work so hard, how could I not do the same?
It’s not that I never stole again, because truthfully, I did. But that day was the beginning of my never stealing again, and it was the start of a long process of me understanding that I was not, in fact, an island unto myself.
This author, the person who really lived this life, seems to have no regrets. She’s forgiven her parents, holds no ill will for her neighborhood and how she grew up, and realizes in hindsight that most of her teachers were there for her, in some way or another or often in many ways. She shows us a plane of America with which most readers won’t be familiar, not just the horrible aspects of it, but the good as well.