In this deftly crafted novel for young adults, author and fashion historian Lucy Adlington relates the story of Ella and Rose, two teens who meet and become friends in a Nazi concentration camp. Upon arrival, their identities—names, clothes, and belongings—are stripped away. Like all prisoners who are viewed as inhuman and disposable, they are forced to wear sack-like clothes with stripes.
Work means survival in the hell of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Ella, a budding seamstress, and the older Rose, a proficient embroiderer, survive because their skills are needed in the Upper Tailoring Studio, where a group of seamstresses make fashionable dresses for the wives of the camp’s brutal ruling forces and the female guards.
Ella and Rose find ways to cling to their humanity—Ella, by eventually taking on a sewing project that could mean certain death if she is discovered; Rose, by sharing fanciful stories of a world beyond the prison wire, bloodthirsty dogs, starvation rations, and inhuman guards who beat prisoners to death on a whim.
While Rose seems to find hope in the most unexpected places, Ella struggles to believe in future freedom. But as she slowly grasps the meaning of true friendship, the power of story to engender hope, and the importance of sacrificial living, Ella makes choices that set her on a path of integrity, one in which she eschews hatred and violence.
In the author’s notes, Lucy Adlington relates her goal in writing this insightful, gripping book: “My heartfelt aim has been to revisit a time in our past that clearly and categorically happened, but also to lift the stories out of historical specifics in order to show universal experiences. Hate crime, sadly, is not a thing of the past.” (Candlewick Press)