Title: The Red Ribbon
Author: Lucy Adlington
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Rose, Ella, Marta and Carla. In another life we might have all been friends together. But this was Birchwood.
As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day at work she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Ella has joined the seamstresses of Birkenau-Auschwitz.
Every dress she makes could be the difference between life and death. And this place is all about survival.
Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive.
Is her love of clothes and creativity nothing more than collaboration wth her captors, or is it a means of staying alive?
Will she fight for herself alone, or will she trust the importance of an ever-deepening friendship with Rose?
One thing weaves through the colours of couture gowns and camp mud – a red ribbon, given to Ella as a symbol of hope.
The Red Ribbon is a touching, emotional and shocking story, set in the concentration camps of WW2, but showing a different side of the camps. Not a nicer side, mind you, but definitely a little different to what we often read about or see in films – I knew nothing about the seamstresses and clothing studios of WW2 concentration camps before I read this novel.
The story centers around Ella, who has just started a new job at a sewing studio – in Auschwitz. It’s a truly shocking story at times, and at other points it’s quite sweet and touching as we see the relationship between Ella and her best friend, Rose. It also feels very poignant when Ella thinks back to life before the war, and about her family; you really feel for her and can’t imagine the horror. She’ll drop thinks into the story really casually – like she was picking lice off the seams of her dress, for example. This really shocked me – I re-read it twice – even though there were other horrible things happening. It made my skin crawl! It’s just one of the ways Lucy Adlington illustrates the horrible living conditions for Ella and the prisoners around her.
I loved both Ella and Rose; they were both really sweet in their own ways, though Ella could be a very headstrong at times and at first I have to admit I found her a little annoying… Rose was also so likable, trying her hardest to create an imaginary world around her to attempt to block out the horrors taking place there.
I don’t read a huge amount from the Young Adult genre and was surprised to see that The Red Ribbon is classed as YA – I hugely enjoyed it, anyway. The book itself is so aesthetically pleasing – it would make an amazing gift. Each page features illustrations of ribbons, scissors and pins, and the cover is beautiful! This provides a strong contrast compared to the stark, colourless world of Auschwitz.
This is a powerful novel of friendship, determination and desperation which I would recommend to anyone. It’s not an ‘enjoyable‘ read as such, due to the subject matter, but I think it is an important one.
Many thanks to Readers First for providing a copy of this beautiful novel, on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.