The Plaid Scarf

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Sheila Solomon Shotwell 2023

Can a garment be a time portal?

Well, maybe – but not in The Plaid Scarf. Sheila Solomon Shotwell comes close, though, and her story feels like magic.

2018: Johanna, a Michigan girl, is preparing for her bat mitzvah under the tutelage of her many-faceted, blues-loving Bubbe. She learns so much more than Hebrew and the Torah, thanks to her grandparents’ passion for both the blues and the history of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement in the American South.

1965: Gladine Brownley, an Alabama girl who is Black, has a lot on her plate. She helps her Mama at the home of the Fines where Mama works as a maid; shoulders more than her share in the running of the Brownleys’ own single-parent household; and does her best to navigate the dangers of being Black in the segregated South during a time of revolution and retaliation.

A plaid scarf wraps the two girls together across time, eventually blurring the lines between past and present.

It’s tricky to execute a dual-timeline novel, but even trickier to merge the two timelines. As the narratives progress, the distance (both physical and temporal) between them shrinks until it nearly disappears – the author executes this with genius-level skill. The conclusion, while heartbreaking, is also life-affirming and satisfying. 

I’m not a child psychologist or educator, but I’ve been an avid reader of fiction all my life. From that perspective, I can say that Sheila Solomon Shotwell has presented some big issues (discrimination, violence, suicide) in a way that seems suitable for young adult/young teen readers.