Annotation: In 1912 Portland, Oregon, sixteen-year-old Miriam Josefsohn wants nothing more than to become a businesswoman and help the women’s suffrage movement, both things her strict father would never dream of allowing her to do. Everything changes, however, when Miriam’s uncle gives her a family heirloom: a prayer shawl with a single blue thread that has the power to transport Miriam thousands of years in the past to the time of Moses.
Personal thoughts: I hadn’t heard much of anything about this novel prior to picking it up, but as a Portland, Oregon native I wanted to give it a try. Fortunately it is one of those gems that somehow always seem to get lost in the sea of young adult literature. Obviously, I really liked this novel pretty much from start to finish. It is well-written and not overly wordy or dramatic. Miriam is really likable and I found myself cheering her on as she struggled to stand up for herself against her misogynistic father. I also loved reading about turn-of-the-century Portland and learned a lot about the women’s suffrage movement and the Daughters of Zelophehad. I think that Blue Thread could easily have a place in the classroom, especially as a novel that enhances education about a certain time in history, or simply as a good book for both teens and adults to enjoy.
Plot summary: Being a well-to-do girl in 1912 Portland, Oregon doesn’t give sixteen-year-old Miriam Josefsohn the freedom to choose what kind of life she leads. Her strict German-born father insists that Miriam be a proper young lady, which means that she will never be able to work a job, cannot get involved in politics like the women’s suffrage movement, and needs to focus on what’s important: getting married to a wealthy Jewish man. The problem is that Miriam wants nothing to do with marriage, and wishes she could become a businesswoman and suffragette. Everything changes, however, when Miriam meets Serakh, a girl her age with bronze skin and a long white braid who asks her about a prayer shawl with a single blue thread. Miriam has never seen such a prayer shawl, but is shocked a few days later when her uncle gives her a family heirloom he has been keeping for her: her great-grandmother’s prayer shawl with a single blue thread. When Serakh returns, she informs Miriam that the shawl has the power to transport Miriam thousands of years in the past to the time of the Daughters of Zelophehad: five sisters in biblical times who sought the right to inherit their father’s lands. Miriam learns that the daughters need her help in their struggle for justice, and that their plight might influence her own generations later.
Review: History author Ruth Tenzer Feldman demonstrates her prowess at creating enjoyable, thoughtful works of fiction with Blue Thread. Combining historical fiction, fantasy, and Jewish fiction, Feldman weaves a tale that both educates and entertains readers who are interested in experiencing something less fluffy and melodramatic as other novels for teens. The most successful part of Blue Thread is, without-a-doubt, the protagonist, Miriam. The character is well-written to the point that by the end of the novel, the reader feels like she is a long-lost friend. Although she lives 100 years ago, modern teens will find much to identify with in Miriam’s struggle to prove to her parents that she is capable and independent. Miriam evolves throughout the story, learning from her travels to the past, and ending her journey on a very exciting note. The time travel aspect of the novel is interesting and adds a level of fantasy to the book, but more important is Miriam’s efforts to champion women’s rights in general. The author does an excellent job of intertwining the fantasy and historical fiction components of the story, but the novel is primarily a coming-of-age story about a really likable and admirable young woman.
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul by Leanna Renee Hieber.
Themes: Women’s suffrage movement, Portland, Oregon, father/daughter relationships, time travel, Judaism, the Bible.
Awards/Reviews: Positive reviews from authors Karen Cushman, Anne Osterlund Swan, Janice Dilg and David Michael Slater.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:- Why do you think Miriam’s father was so strict? Do you think that his beliefs were normal for the time period?
- Explain why Miriam’s father was so opposed to her having the prayer shawl. Did his attitude change in the novel?
- What was the significance of Baloo in the events of the story?
- How did Miriam help Tirtzah and her sisters fight for justice? How did they help her?
- If you lived in 1912, do you think you would have been like Miriam and fought for women’s right to vote? Why or why not?
- Describe how Miriam is similar to a sixteen-year-old girl in 2012. How is she different?