The Red Ribbon is one of those books where there are all these subtle touches that make the book. Whether it be the color, the imagery, or the characters, The Red Ribbon just exceeds expectations.
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. As thoughtful and resilient as the dressmakers themselves, Rose and Ella’s story is one of courage, desperation, and hope — hope as delicate and as strong as silk, as vibrant as a red ribbon in a sea of gray.
The Red Ribbon sheds light on the previously, to me, unknown side of concentration camps – the sewing workshops. There’s all these little touches that make this book stunning – the imagery, the writing set up, and the characters within. There’s a lack of simplicity within and if you look closer, you’ll see all these different shades.
So now I want to list the reasons why I really enjoyed The Red Ribbon:
- Ella is precious. Not only is she resilient, but she loves to sew. She’s probably who I’d be if I was in the book. While I wish I was a Rose, I’m sure I would probably really be Ella. There’s a fire within her, that hasn’t been diminished. There’s also a softness and innocence in some of her actions.
- We are asked hard questions about who is our enemy. Is it the people we expect? Can they surprise us? During this time period, we have to kind of figure out people’s motivations.
- This story defied simplicity. There’s the heroes, the villains-ish, that we expect, but also in the language of those within society. It’s about the steady steps forward, the slippery slope that landed us in this tragedy.
- There’s such juxtaposition of extremes in this book that just illustrate the starkness, but also the elements that make it seem so jarring and horrific i.e. decadent birthday cake within the concentration camps.
- Rose talks a lot about social justice and solidarity. Rose was a character that surprised me. When I first met her, I wasn’t sure what to think of her – I was so much on team Ella, but then I really grew to love Rose.
- Rose is an expert storyteller. And I loved this. I love when characters in books love books.
- This book’s sections are organized by color. I loved that.
The only thing I really didn’t like is that there’s some queer-baiting. I had this one fleeting moment where I thought – is this going to be LGBTQIA+ and then it was extinguished. I also didn’t think that one incident was necessary, so that was disappointing. I read the ARC though, so not sure if it’s in the final copy.
All in all, The Red Ribbon is a story of friendship and love. Sewing acts as a thread, or a light in dark all uniting them and examining the different paths to get there.