Title: The Girl with the Red Balloon
Author: Katherine Locke
Publisher: Albert Whitman Company
Release Date: September 1st, 2017
The premise of this book is what drew me in originally. I mean there are time-traveling balloons, how does that not hook you? I’m such a sucker for books that involve time-traveling. I expected this book to lean more on the adventurous side, but it was one that was all about the characters. For once, I was not mad about it.
Synopsis: When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process.
Even though this book is only 256 pages, it tackles a variety of tough topics such as antisemitism, racism, genocide, what it’s like to live in totalitarian regime, and more. I applaud the book for not only tackling these subjects, but also not romanticizing them. It treats the situation our characters find themselves in in a very real, dark way. I think the reason it is able to do this so well is because of the character development.
This is a very character driven book. It is told in three different perspectives: Ellie, our accidental time-traveler; Kai, the Romani boy she meets upon arriving in East Berlin; and Benno, a Jewish teenage boy living in Germany during the Holocaust. All three story-lines interconnect to create a full picture. There is also Mitzi, who doesn’t get her own POV, but is definitely an integral part of the stories. I loved all four of our main characters, and really felt like I knew them inside and out by the end of the story. The different perspectives allowed you to see the character from all angles.
Character driven books are very hit or miss with me, as I definitely prefer books with intricate plots. However, I didn’t mind the slow plot as much here, because I found the characters so interesting. Part of the reason why they were so interesting was because they all came from different walks of life. Ellie is a Jewish teenage girl who accidentally travels back in time thanks to a red balloon and finds herself in a place where practicing her religion is illegal. Kai is a Romani teen from London, who moves to East Berlin to protect his sister. Mitzi is a German teenage girl who was kicked out of her house, because she is a lesbian. Then there’s Benno who is a Jewish teenager that we watch live through the Holocaust. Each of them share the similarity of being forced to survive in a world that does not accept them. Not only are their backgrounds and stories intriguing, but their personalities just leap off the page. It’s hard not to fall in love with them.
Another thing that I really loved in this book, was it’s theme of faith. You don’t often read about YA characters who are religious or see religion talked about. I liked that it was a part of the conversation here. Both Ellie and Benno are Jewish, and each have a different relationship with their own religion. It was interesting to read about each of their own views on religion and how they differed. I should mention that none of this came across as preachy.
Some other things I loved, was exploring East Berlin through the lens of our characters. Since this is a multi-perspective story, you got to see East Berlin from different perspectives which was cool. The romance in this book was also very solid. I was definitely swooning over our male lead. I also really enjoyed the writing style. There were a few issues I had with the book though.
The biggest problem I had was with the plot. As I stated before, the plot was a little slow for me. I didn’t mind it so much, because the characters were so solid. However, the mystery plot line could have been much stronger. I thought that it needed more tension and could have been executed better. The reveal was surprising, but could have been much more shocking had the whole plot line been better developed. I was underwhelmed by the plot for the most part, which was a little disappointing because of the premise.
I will say, that there is a moment where the stakes are raised in an extremely effective way. However, it was only one moment. I wish that the rest of the whole mystery plot line was handled as well as that moment.
I also wanted to know more about the magic system. While it did make sense, I just wanted more information on everything and see it happen more on the page. I wanted to learn more about the inner workings of the balloon factory, the magic system, and basically everything. There are definitely some unanswered questions at the end of the book, and I hope we get an answer one way or another.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Girl with the Red Balloon. I absolutely adored the characters, and liked that the book went to some dark places without holding back. I finished the book only wanting more, especially with that ending. If you enjoy character driven novels, I definitely recommend picking it up!
There will be a second book in this world, but according to Katherine Locke it is going to be more of a companion novel. While I’m excited to read more in this world, I hope she does some sort of a follow-up with this book. I need to know what happens next!
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
I would love to hear your thoughts on this book! Did you love it or hate it? Anyone else have a major crush on Kai? Also, I’m still not over that ending. I literally screamed out loud when I got there in disbelief that that was the end. Let’s talk about it in the comment section below.