Reviews /

Stitched Up

Authored by Steve Cole
Illustrated by Oriol Vidal
Published by Barrington Stoke

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An excellent, gritty story by Steve Cole focusing on the source of much of our fashionwear and the impact on the lives of those that produce it. It is set in Vietnam where a 12-year-old girl, Hanh, is unknowingly sold into slavery by her parents, who thought she was going to work in an office. She has been educated and has dreams of becoming a fashion designer, but once on the bus starts to wonder where she is really headed. Too late, when she arrives at the sweatshop in Hanoi with several other children, she realises she is trapped in a terrifying life of cruelty with no hope of rescue. The process of how they create the garments so coveted in the West is detailed and it makes the reader really start to question the morality of whether we should be much more conscious of where we source our clothing. Hanh, and her fellow workers, embark on a dangerous plan to escape and the reader is left until the very end to find out if, and how, they will find freedom.

As a note of caution, scenes of violence are mentioned throughout so adults do need to consider the sensitivities of their readers and whether the content is age appropriate. It is clear that in these illegal factories the children are expendable, illness is considered an inconvenience and others will replace them. Although the story is tense and has sequences of brutality, there are also many moments of compassion which temper the darkness of their reality.

This is the latest in a series of books by the same author written to let young readers see the world through the eyes of their peers the same age as them but living very different lives. Definitely a book for older readers (Upper Key Stage 2 and 3), the horrific real-life cost of fast fashion is uncovered in detail and hopefully will make the reader question their own ethical stance around fashion and whether they should be making alternative choices which aren’t solely based on saving money – because what can be bought cheaply might actually come at a terrible hidden human cost. Another advantage of this book is that, as are all Barrington Stoke books, it is accessible for all readers including those reluctant, struggling or dyslexic, but maintaining a high interest level. The black and white illustrations by Oriol Vidal accompanying the text also add to the sense of tension and despair of their plight. For teachers it would be an excellent starting point for a topic or debate about the fashion industry, human rights, and sustainability but also how to face fear, find courage and fight for one’s freedom.

You can listen to Steve Cole talking to Nikki Gamble about Stitched Up in this episode of In the Reading Corner: