Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: September 1st, 2017
Length: 278 pages
Description from Goodreads:
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.
The Girl with the Red Balloon is a YA historical fiction novel that takes place mainly in East Germany in 1988, but also has a subplot that takes place in a ghetto in Poland during World War II. It has an element of magical realism in it that I really loved.
When I first started reading, I was hooked. I thought the premise was super cool and I really loved the characters.
The story is told through three points of view: Ellie, Kai, and Benno. Ellie and Kai are both together in East Berlin, while Benno is living in a ghetto in Poland during World War II. I really loved the Benno storyline and how it connected up. Also, fun fact, in an interview on the Professional Book Nerds Podcast, Locke said that when she wrote the first draft of the book, Benno’s story wasn’t in it. But once she added it, she didn’t do any editing to his story, apart from some copyediting here and there, which I thought was insane and very impressive.
Anyway, I thought that the three point of view characters had very distinct voices, so it was easy to tell them apart. That’s one thing I feel like a lot of authors who try different view points struggle with, but it was done so well here.
I enjoyed reading this story for the most part, but I did have a few issues with it that detracted from my overall experience.
First off, I thought the plot and characters sort of fell apart towards the end. There were a lot of things about the climax and resolution that didn’t make sense and weren’t believable. I won’t go into specific details here, but there’s someone messing with the balloons they’re using to transport people over the Wall and it’s a mystery the whole time as to who’s doing it. When it’s revealed what has been happening, I just felt a bit disappointed.
The main character, Ellie, also got less believable as the story went on. I can remember two distinct moments where things happen to her that should have caused her to freak out and maybe act irrationally in response, but she just kind of took it and immediately started rationalizing why it was fine. It just didn’t feel genuine.
She also didn’t seem to be terrified at the prospect that she might never be able to get home. That’s barely addressed, and when it is, it’s by other characters mentioning it to her. She also almost never talks about missing home or being homesick.
I did love both Kai and Mitzi and found them to be incredibly well developed and believable.
I also really loved all of the magical realism, and the idea of using magic to help people escape from East Berlin to West Berlin.
Even though it did have some issues, I was pretty hooked the whole time, up until the ending kind of lost me. I plan on reading the next book in the series because I love the premise so much, and the author seems pretty awesome so I want to like her stuff.
Also, as part of Overdrive’s Big Library Read, you can get this book without dealing with holds or waitlists until 10/15.