When her mother dies in quarantine at Ellis Island, 12-year-old Sarah has no hope of being admitted to America on her own.
Since no family members can be found to sponsor her, she is placed on a ship for deportation back to Russia. In desperation, she jumps into the icy water and swims for Bedloe’s Island and the Statue of Liberty. There, she survives by hiding among the trees, eating tourists’ discards, and sleeping in the Lady’s torch at night, all the while evading the night watchman, Maryk. But when he catches her, he proves to be a friend. He takes her to his boardinghouse in Chinatown, where she becomes part of a very diverse and eccentric group of outsiders. Sharenow presents a mixed picture of the experiences of immigrants and other outsiders in turn-of-the-20th-century New York, vividly describing what Sarah sees and hears, tastes and smells amid the reality of grinding poverty and nearly constant fear. Sarah’s support network of Chinese, Irish, African-American, and Native American friends is unusual and highly unlikely, though comforting for young readers, who may well need it. In an epilogue, readers catch up with Sarah 20 years later as she revisits the Statue. The book concludes with two author’s notes, a variety of research sources, and a timeline.
Exciting if at times disquieting in its realism. (Historical fiction. 9-12)