Sharenow, Robert. The Girl in the Torch
May 26th 2015 by Balzer + Bray
Copy received from Goldberg McDuffie Communications (Publicity)
When Sarah's father is killed in a pogrom, and her mother becomes very ill on their trip to the US, Sarah finds herself in the custody of immigration. When her mother passes away, she is going to be sent back to her country. Knowing this will not end well, she jumps off the ship and ends up at the Statue of Liberty. There, she has a fairly successful life, sleeping in the statue, scrounging leftover food and saving pennies to take the ferry to the city. When a guard, Maryk, is injured, she helps him. To thank her, he takes her to his boarding house and hands her over to Mrs. Lee, the Chinese landlady, and suggests that Sarah helps out in the kitchen. Sarah is a hard worker, and Mrs. Lee has a soft spot for people in need. Again, things go fairly well. Sarah befriends a Newsie, Tommy, and he turns out to be very helpful when her situation with Mrs. Lee becomes untenable. Luckily, Sarah's command of English and her willingness to stand up to authority figures saves the day.
Strengths: This is different from the usual immigrant story, where the child ends up in a sweatshop, and has a lot more action. The characters are all appealing, even Maryk, who is tragically flawed but helps Sarah when she really needs it. The different sections of New York City are well described, and the kindness of the strangers who help Sarah is a wonderful thing to have in a book. Reminded me a bit of Napoli's The King of Mulberry Street.
Weaknesses: While I can understand why Sharenow would want to be vague about country of origin so the tale is more universal (which is often not successful, see Close to the Wind), I'm a fan of specifics in historical fiction. More details about daily life (food, clothing, atmosphere) would have been something I would have enjoyed.
What I really think: Historical fiction is a hard sell, but this has enough appealing elements that I think it will circulate well, so I will buy a copy. Wish the cover were a little better.