The Girl in the Torch by Robert Sharenow is a lovely piece of historical fiction that will introduce middle grade readers to a fascinating period in history. I particularly loved that it touched on some history that many children are not familiar with, and it showed the interaction of cultures that has made America great.
At the turn of the century, many immigrants are sailing to America in search of a better life. After the tragic death of her father, Sarah is excited to be traveling with her mother to New York. When she arrives, she is devastated by another loss and told that she cannot stay. She makes a split-second decision that leads her to the small island that houses the Statue of Liberty.
Posing as a tourist during the day and eluding the watchman by night, Sarah survives by eating from the trash and hiding in trees. When she makes the decision to perform a kindness to someone in physical danger, her world suddenly opens up, and she becomes a member of the wider community.
This wider community represents the fuller sense of what it means to live in America. The hope of the Statue of Liberty meets the grit of every day life. Sarah learns that honesty, courage, and friendship—the values that her mother taught her—will serve her well in her new country.
This book has so much to offer young readers. The chapters are very short and perfect for middle grade readers. The protagonist, Sarah, is someone to root for. While there are some examples of violence and bigotry, they are presented in a way that would be understandable for a young reader. Many cultures in this novel coexist and we learn a little about each one.
Finally, the character of Maryk, the night watchman, and his tragic past was so poignant and moving. His gradual softening and care for Sarah was truly lovely to read.
I cannot recommend The Girl in the Torch highly enough. It will have a place in my classroom library for many years to come.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina