Author: Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Time Travel, Feminism
Publisher: Ooligan Press
Publication date: February 1st 2012
Paperback: 296 pages
The women’s suffrage movement is in full swing in 1912 Portland, Oregon—the last holdout state on the West Coast. Miriam desperately wants to work at her father’s printing shop, but when he refuses she decides to dedicate herself to the suffrage movement, demanding rights for women and a different life for herself. Amidst the uncertainty of her future, Miriam’s attention is diverted by the mysterious Serakh, whose sudden, unexplained appearances and insistent questions lead Miriam to her grandmother’s Jewish prayer shawl—and to her destiny. With this shawl, Miriam is taken back in time to inspire the Daughters of Zelophehad, the first women in Biblical history to own land. Miriam brings the strength and courage of these women with her forward in time, emboldening her own struggles and illuminating what it means to be an independent woman.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I saw Blue Thread at GoodReads a few weeks ago and added it to my radar. I was going to get the book eventually but after my commentary on that post which sparked a number of comments, I thought I should read it ASAP.
1912, Portland. Miriam is a young woman who desperately wants to work at her father’s printing shop and has been mustering up the courage to ask him for a chance to prove herself. For the past months, she has been reading about printing, practicing on her own and is full of innovative ideas. Unfortunately, her parents have other plans for Miriam and she finds herself having to enter the marriage market against her will. Meanwhile, the women’s suffrage movement is spreading and although her parents try to keep Miriam away from it all, she becomes increasingly interested to hear what these women have to say and ends up involved in the movement alongside new friends.
Amidst all of this, Miriam is also visited by a mysterious woman called Serakh. Serakh’s sudden, unexplained appearances are followed by a persistent demand that Miriam must help her – her first mission is to find her family’s praying shawl. This shawl has been passed down generations and contains a (Magical) blue thread that allows Miriam and Serakh to travel back to the time of Moses to meet with the five Daughters of Zelophehad – the first women in Biblical history to own land. Or at least, they will be, once Miriam inspires them to talk to Moses which is Miriam’s main mission – as proposed by Serakh.
There were many things I loved about Blue Thread and one side of the story that didn’t work as well. I will start with the bad as I want to finish the review on a high note.
According to the author’s note (or check out this article) , the premise of the book (or at least the connection to the Biblical story of the Daughters of Zelophehad) took root when she saw a real photograph of a 1908 suffrage banner which mentions those characters:
The banner reads: LIKE THE DAUGHTERS OF ZELOPHEHAD, WE ASK FOR OUR INHERITANCE
Like the author, I found this to be fascinating. Unfortunately I don’t think this was well incorporated in the story. My main concern when approaching the book was how the religious side of the story would play out in this context. The main character is Jewish and her travel back in time to meet the Daughters of Zelophehad alludes to a factual side of the Bible. My fear – as is my fear with any story that involves religion – was that her personal connection with her religion as well the story’s historical background would be proposed as universal truths which could potentially exclude both other religious and non-religious people’s perspectives from the equation. Thankfully that wasn’t a problem at all. Instead, I had a huge problem with the Fantasy elements of the story and the very time travel aspect of it, in terms of what it MEANT.
The Fantasy elements are sloppy at best. Serakh is a time traveller with the gift of languages who keeps bringing people from Miriam’s family line back and forth in time to….inspire other people? How she does it (beyond the Magical Blue Thread), why exactly must she do this, why Miriam’s family in particular are never truly explored. There were several WAIT A MINUTE- moments when I caught myself trying to understand the why exactly were these women doing this. I love time travel stories but I am not even sure if these Fantasy elements were essential to this story. This is even more glaring when these Fantasy elements basically disappear from the story halfway through it and the way I see it, don’t really matter to Miriam’s main arc at all. Her accomplishments in the end are hers, helped by her own timeline’s inspirations (her friends and the suffrage movement).
Which brings me to my main problem with the story which stems from how Miriam’s downright interferes with the Daughters’ story. Her “help” went far beyond mere inspiration. In fact, she basically TELLS them what to do, how and why – and even helps things along by speaking on their behalf. This means that Miriam effectively undermines those women’s victory and erases their pioneer status. I think this is unforgivable considering the very topic of this book and well, it pissed me off.
But like I said, thankfully this is just one sides of the novel and in terms of Miriam’s character arc in her own timeline as well as the historical aspects of the women’s suffrage movement, Blue Thread is a success.
Starting with Miriam’s difficult relationship with her parents – and in different ways depending on each parental unit. Her frustration with the fact that she can’t inherit her father’s business and how she knows she can be a good typesetter but no one will listen to her. Or how her mother is adamant that all she needs is a man to take care of her and she will be settled for life. There is also an element of family history and personal tragedy that plays really well overall.
I loved the development of Miriam’s feminist ideas in terms of universal ideas applicable to all women and how she started to read up on the suffrage movement and take part on it and to make friends with other women and even men, because of it. But also in the context of her life – it should be after all, her RIGHT to be the heir of her father’s business, like it would have been if she were a man. There is a lot of growth for Miriam here and one of my favourite things about the book is that it doesn’t demonises her traditionalist parents and the ending of the book is perfect – full of growth and hope but also some heartbreaking moments.
Blue Thread has a lot going for it and I am glad I read it. If you are interested in a good story about a young woman finding her footing in the historical context of the suffrage movement, look no further. But if you are looking for that as a well as a well-developed Fantasy novel involving time travel – I am sorry to say, but you should probably look elsewhere.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
“Serakh’s hazel eyes glistened. She kissed the embroidered edge and draped the shawl around her shoulders and mine. My whole body relaxed as if I were soaking in a warm bath. Then she wrapped the corner fringe with the blue thread around her fingers.
“Many Miriams of your line have worn this shawl. Many have traveled.”
“Pardon?” The thread commenced to gleam as brightly as a filament in Mr. Edison’s light bulbs. My heart lurched.
“How did you do that?”
“No matter, Miriam. Are you ready to visit Tirtzah? You have only to touch this thread.”
I willed my hands to stay at my side. Surely this parlor trick had a rational explanation. “I have to be back before my parents return.”
“We shall take no time at all.”
“Oh, does Tirtzah live around here? The only Tirtzah I’ve heard about is supposed to be in the Book of Numbers.”
“I do not know of such a book.” Serakh hummed to herself. She looked longingly at the licorice nibs, but didn’t ask for another piece.
The grandfather clock ticked in the hall. Serakh stroked the blue thread with her free hand. “Miriam,” she said softly, “I cannot make you touch this thread, so I ask again for the sake of Tirtzah and our people. Tirtzah struggles to share in her father’s dream. Will you come?””
Rating: 6 – Good, recommended with reservations.
Reading Next: The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry
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