The Girl in the Torch is a pretty, solemn tale with a happy ending. The story follows Sarah, a Russian immigrant coming to America. After her father tragically dies, Sarah and her mom make their way to New York. While on their voyage here, Sarah’s mom becomes ill, and once they hit Ellis Island, they begin the process to become citizens. Her mom is deemed too ill, is then quarantined, and few days later she passes. Unable to locate her family in New York, Sarah is forced to go back to her native land and to her uncle. She is booked passage to head home, but jumps ship to hide on Ellis Island for a few a days until she gets caught one day by Maryk, who is half Native American.
From there, Maryk brings Sarah back to his place in Chinatown where, in return for her staying there, Sarah helps out around the house that belongs to Mrs. Lee. Looking for a more permanent place of her own, Sarah seeks employment as a buttonhole maker. Unable to do so, she helps a young boy named Tommy, who is a newsie.
In an unfortunate turn of events, Mrs. Lee, her other Chinese occupants, and Maryk are all arrested for a human slave ring. This is proven untrue and they are all set free. Sarah escapes and hides during a rain storm and ends up finding Tommy and stays with him. Sarah turns herself in after staying late on Ellis Island and demands to speak to a reporter. She is taken into custody and after a small hearing, her friends are released. But since Sarah has no family, she is once again forced to head back to Russia.
In a move orchestrated by her friends, she is given food, money, and a train ticket to Oklahoma, where Maryk has relatives. Through a diversion, she able to board the train, and start a new life.
Some twenty years pass, and we find her back on Ellis Island with her husband and her son, also named Maryk, telling her tale and showing them the places she lived.
On the whole, I thought this book was a very easy read that I would recommend for middle school. I wasn’t overly captivated by the style it was written in, or how vague the details were, though. These details mean a lot to me when I read a book. However, I will say I think Sharenow got characterizations spot on, and captured what it must be like to try to immigrate to America through the trials and heartbreak that many face. Also, I really like how in the back of the book, there are three sections with information explaining some of the vague details, geography, and even some of his family history that is present in the book.
Robert Sharenow is an Emmy award-winning television producer who works for A&E and Lifetime. He is also an accomplished young adult author and his début, My Mother the Cheerleader, was well received and “Best Book of the Year” by the American Library Association.
The Girl in the Torch
By Robert Sharenow
May 26, 2015