THE RED RIBBON, by Lucy Adlington, Candlewick, Sept. 11, 2018, Hardcover, $17.99 (young adult)
Lucy Adlington’s The Red Ribbon is an emotionally draining and uplifting look at life inside Auschwitz II-Birkenau during WWII.
Three weeks after being detained on her way home from school, fourteen-year-old Ella finds herself in the Upper Tailoring Studio, a sewing workshop inside a Nazi concentration camp. There, two dozen skeletal women toil over stolen sewing machines. They are the seamstresses of Birchwood, stitching couture dresses for a perilous client list: wives of the camp’s Nazi overseers and the female SS officers who make prisoners’ lives miserable. It is a workshop where stylish designs or careless stitches can mean life or death. And it is where Ella meets Rose. —Synopsis provided by Candlewick
The Red Ribbon is engrossing. From the first lines through the final chapter, I devoured Adlington’s book.
The Upper Tailoring Studio at Auschwitz was a real place where 23 prisoners sewed amazing dresses for the Nazi elite. It was created at the command of Hedwig Hoess, the wife of the concentration camp’s feared commander Rudolf. The studio was a haven of sorts for those prisoners, who escaped heavy manual labor and occasionally received extra food in exchange for a job well done.
Ella and Rose are fictional characters, although their stories are not far from the truth. In The Red Ribbon the two find themselves thrust into the impossible position of finding joy while working for those who took everything away. Ella has always dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, and at the studio, her talents are valued. But the suffering that surrounds her mutes her sense of accomplishment.
Ella’s true joy comes in the form of a new friend, Rose. Rose is a political prisoner whose fancy upbringing included learning to embroider. Rose enhances Ella’s creations with her skills, but her true gift is that of a storyteller. Rose’s stories have a way of bringing people together and helping them momentarily escape the horrors they’re living.
I read The Red Ribbon in one day. Adlington’s writing is smooth and welcoming, which is appreciated with such a difficult setting. Ella and Rose are as familiar as the girls who live next door. Their resilience and friendship are beautiful.
The Red Ribbon is a compelling read that’s definitely worth your time.
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