What: The Girl with the Red Balloon (The Balloonmakers #1) by Katherine Locke
Who: Albert Whitman Company
When: September 1st 2017
How: A copy of this novel was provided by Albert Whitman Company for review via Edelweiss.
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.
I got to 9% of The Girl with the Red Balloon and wanted to DNF. The first few chapters weren’t engaging me, and I just didn’t feel any pull to keep reading. I thought that ditching at 9% felt a little unfair, especially since there were only about two chapters in that time, so I decided to keep reading. I didn’t end up loving The Girl with the Red Balloon, but I did end up liking it.
There were three POVs in The Girl with the Red Balloon. There’s Ellie, who is Jewish and our main protagonist – the girl who grabs a red balloon and gets transported back in time to East Berlin in 1988. Then there’s Kai, who’s a Romani boy who actually lives in East Berlin in 1988. And then there’s Benno, a Jewish teenager living through the Second World War.
My favourite POV was Benno’s, which is sad because his were the least frequent. I wish there had been more about him because his story was the most engaging. The scenes where Benno and his family and friends were secretly practising their Judaism in the Nazi ghetto were incredibly emotional. I just wanted more of his story because the time that Jewish people (and others) spent in places like Łódź during World War II is such an important part of history, and reading about it from a teenage boy’s perspective is something I have never experienced before.
My least favourite POV was Kai’s. In all honesty his chapters mainly felt like info-dumps. There wasn’t a lot that they added to the story, and were mostly filled with info on Berlin’s situation in 1988, the system of the magical red balloons, and the people that he and Ellie interacted with. I wanted his POV to be more than an information package.
Then we have Ellie. I don’t really feel any strong emotional connection to Ellie, despite what she went through. And that’s probably because of how she reacted to it. I think there was one scene where she says she misses her mum, and that’s because of the cute pictures of their cat that she sends. Beyond the first few chapters Ellie barely mentions missing her home or the people she loves at all. I found this unrealistic, I guess. She does have friends and family she loves so it’s not like she had no one to miss. And the fact that she barely thought about them at all just seemed off to me. At sixteen how could you not miss all the things that have been randomly taken away from you?
I also felt like her acclimation to being in a city under martial law was a little fast. She adjusted very quickly to being in East Berlin in 1988 – which was an incredibly dangerous and scary time, especially in terms of Ellie’s fictional situation of being part of a magical rebel resistance. But after a few days of being holed up in her room she just takes off into the city with no papers, no map, no clue of where she is. I suppose I felt like there needed to be more time spent on Ellie coming to terms with everything before being so confident and comfortable.
Overall, I am glad that I didn’t ditch The Girl with the Red Balloon after 9%. I liked reading about two Jewish protagonists, and overall the story was interesting and unique. I certainly appreciated learning what East Berlin was like in 1988 because it was something that I was never taught in history classes.
I think if you’re a fan of time travel, want to read a book with a range of diverse characters, and enjoy magical balloon stories then I’d suggest giving The Girl with the Red Balloon a chance.
© 2017, Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity. All rights reserved.
trigger warning: war themes, martial law, reference to concentration camps, time spent in Nazi ghetto, death of father, death of sibling, death of mother (Nazi gas chamber), use of g*psy slur, multiple deaths, use of ableist language, suicidal ideation, building fire (arson), burn wounds, smoke inhalation, forced drug use, racism, reference to homomisia, and multiple murders in this novel