The book begins, “I have just one picture left of my mother.” The narrator, a young woman named Liz Murray, keeps a small, creased, black-and-white photograph of her mother, taken when Liz’s mother was sixteen. Liz sees that she, Liz, looks a little like her mother (though Liz thinks she’s not as pretty as her mother).
Liz Murray clearly feels a close connection with her mother: she notices the resemblance between the two of them, and seems to admire her mother’s beauty. But for reasons we don’t yet understand, Liz is also alienated from her mother: her closest connection to seems to be a decades-old photograph.
Late at night, Liz will sometimes look in the mirror and compare her face with her mother’s. She hasn’t had a home in years, and she usually sleeps in friends’ apartments. She often wonders where she’ll sleep tomorrow, and she longs for the warmth of her mother’s embrace. But whenever she feels this way, usually late at night, she tries to bury her emotions: otherwise, she’ll never be able to fall asleep.
The prologue hammers home some of the memoir’s key themes. Liz is homeless, meaning that she typically sleeps at friends’ houses for a few nights at a time. She also thinks about her family constantly, but, for reasons not yet explained, she’s far away from them. Finally, Liz has a lot of strong emotions, especially about her parents, but during her time as a homeless teenager she’s unable to “wallow” in these emotions, for fear of becoming overwhelmed. In the memoir that follows, Liz discusses the feelings she’s bottled up for so long.