The Girl in the Torch
Audio Interview With the Author
Audio Length: 15 minutes
Robert Sharenow lives two dramatically distinct lives. He is an author who has won the admiration of critics and readers with his historical novels for young adults. He is also an Emmy award-winning television producer and is the Executive Vice President and General Manager of Lifetime and A&E Television Networks.
His debut novel, My Mother the Cheerleader, was named one of the “Best Books of the Year” by the American Library Association, School Library Journal and the New York Public Library and his second novel, The Berlin Boxing Club, received the Sydney Taylor Book Award and was a finalist for the Walden Award. A starred review mainstay, Sharenow’s novels have been hailed as “compelling” (Kirkus Reviews), “masterful” (Publishers Weekly), “well-drawn, complex…[and] gripping” (School Library Journal).
Rob’s latest Middle Grade book, THE GIRL IN THE TORCH, tells the story of Sarah, a 12 year-old immigrant girl who is orphaned when her mother dies upon their arrival in America, escaping the pogroms of Czarist Russia.
In this Authorlink audio interview Rob talks about balancing his television career and family life with his longtime love of writing books. Despite his experience in television, he struggled to find an agent and publisher for his first book, querying 20- to-40 agents before landing his first deal. In our discussion, he shares his approach for deciding what makes a good story: “relatable characters in extraordinary circumstances who defy our expectations of what the characters should be.” He also reveals why he could never devote full time only to writing books.
THE GIRL IN THE TORCH is a historical novel for middle grade readers, a tale about identity, sacrifice, survival, and family, set against the backdrop of Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century.
Everyone in Sarah’s Russian village dreamed of America after a tantalizing postcard of the Statue of Liberty featuring Emma Lazarus’ poem circulated among them. But when no American relatives can be located to sponsor Sarah after her mother’s death, her hopes are crushed as she is placed on a ship for deportation back to Russia. In desperation, she makes a daring leap into New York Harbor and swims to the nearest land mass, Liberty Island, where she takes refuge inside the Statue of Liberty, the torch becoming her own private bedroom. To survive, she scavenges for food among the tourists during the day, evading capture by hiding amid the trees and retreating to Lady Liberty upon nightfall. Eventually, she is discovered by a troubled night watchman named Maryk who takes her under his wing and brings her to his boardinghouse in Chinatown. There, Sarah is integrated into a very diverse and eccentric group of outsiders who become like family to her. As she struggles with her new life and identity, crackdowns on illegal immigrants sweep Chinatown, putting Sarah and her housemates at risk. Will she escape their wrath or be sent back to Russia to face what promises to be a tortured life?
Robert Sharenow has always wanted to write an immigration story. Both sets of his great-grand parents immigrated to the United States from Czarist Russia, where they lived in segregated Jewish shtetls and were persecuted for their beliefs.
“For me, their journey to become Americans forms the most powerful and dramatic core of my family history,” writes Sharenow. “I do believe that, despite its flaws, the United States provides a promise of hope to people all over the world. In writing The Girl in the Torch, I tried to capture some of the enduring promise of those liberties and the dream of becoming an American, as well as honor the journey of my own family.”
Praise for THE GIRL IN THE TORCH
“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… Exciting if at times disquieting in its realism.”~Kirkus Reviews
“Thanks to Sharenow’s well-crafted dialogue, the characters are representative without becoming stereotypes. The plot is well paced, and the bittersweet conclusion is faithful to the complexities of this chapter of history.”~VOYA
“Dynamic commentary on multiculturalism and the immigrant experience in America.”~Booklist
“Rich with historical detail as Sharenow covers flophouses, newsies, and more, and its themes of drawing strength from others, making a new life, and struggling for independence are moving.” ~Publishers Weekly
About Robert Sharenow
Rob Sharenow is Executive Vice President and General Manager of Lifetime and A&E Network. In this role, he is responsible for overseeing all creative and strategic business matters for the two networks, including programming, acquisitions, marketing, and brand development. A veteran executive for A&E Networks and having led two successful tenures at A&E and Lifetime, Sharenow was given oversight of both networks in February 2015.
Sharenow is a graduate of Brandeis University. He received his Master’s degree from New York University, where he held a fellowship in the American Studies department.