Book Review: The Girl in the Torch by Robert Sharenow
Goodreads Description: At the dawn of the twentieth century, thousands of immigrants are arriving in the promised land of New York City. Twelve-year-old Sarah has always dreamed of America, a land of freedom and possibility. In her small village she stares at a postcard of the Statue of Liberty and imagines the Lady beckoning to her. When Sarah and her mother finally journey across the Atlantic, though, tragedy strikes—and Sarah finds herself being sent back before she even sets foot in the country.
Yet just as Sarah is ushered onto the boat that will send her away from the land of her dreams, she makes a life-or-death decision. She daringly jumps off the back of the boat and swims as hard as she can toward the Lady's island and a new life.
Her leap of faith leads her to an unbelievable hiding place: the Statue of Liberty itself. Now Sarah must find a way to Manhattan while avoiding the night watchman and scavenging enough food to survive. When a surprising ally helps bring her to the city, Sarah finds herself facing new dangers and a life on her own. Will she ever find a true home in America?
My Review: I was sent an ARC of The Girl in the Torch, but my review is entirely my own opinion.
Right from the beginning of this book, I was pulled into Sarah's struggles and admired the way the author set up each conflict and could make every little problem feel like the end of the world for Sarah. As a new American immigrant arriving around the turn of the century, Sarah faces many varied challenges, from losing her mother, to choosing to jump from the boat to avoid deportation, to scavenging for food and a place to sleep among the Statute of Liberty. Through all of this Sarah remains resilient and hopeful, which is part of what made this book so special. Though Sarah undergoes horrible tragedies, she is always trying to move forward and overcome her next challenge. She doesn't dwell on things and remains optimistic and kind to those around her. Moreso, what made me admire Sarah's character is she was actually smart. The author, Robert Sharenow, didn't have her ignore red flags and walk blindly into danger. She could realize when something wasn't quite right, stand up for herself, and get out instead of allowing herself to be dragged into serious trouble. This is balanced well with a bit of the meekness and naivety that one would expect of a young girl on her own. The balance made her not only a realistic girl, but one that young readers can really look up to.
The pacing of this book is slow at first, but is in no short supply of tension. Each problem that Sarah has to overcome is presented in a way that makes it hard to look away, and each step builds upon itself. The last third of the book runs through like a thrill ride as Sarah has to find a way to rescue her new found friends and family from getting sent to prison because of her, while still find a way to stay in America. It was delightful to see all the pieces come together by the end. The epilogue definitely has a bit of sugary sweet cheesiness to it, but the overall ending to the story was very delightful. I can't think of a better word for it than that, since I was just delighted reading it.
The book had a very diverse flavour to it, since the story is of American immigrants. Sarah rooms with Chinese people and a black couple, befriends an Irish orphan, is rescued by a half-native man, not to mention encounters a variety of cultures settling throughout New York City. It definitely reminded me of something I would have read in school. It would be perfect for young readers to discuss in a classroom setting, as it does touch lightly on things like racism and life for immigrants to the USA.
I highly encourage teachers and librarians to pick this one up for their students. It would also appeal to those who enjoy a historical tale as well.
TL;DR: All in all, 3.5/5 stars. A very sweet and diverse tale, and one to savor.