2018 Carolyn W. Field Award Honor Book 2018 Sydney Taylor Honor Book for Teen Readers
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.
Katherine Locke lives and writes in a small town outside Philadelphia, where she’s ruled by her feline overlords and her addiction to chai lattes. She writes about that which she cannot do: ballet, magic, and time travel. She secretly believes all stories are fairytales in disguise. Her YA debut, THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON, arrives September 2017 from Albert Whitman & Comapny.
A copy was provided by the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review
"All the facts in history books couldn’t prepare someone for standing in a place where history was present tense".
It's going to be easier for me to just jot down what I loved about this book that try and elaborate an essay so here we go:
This book definitely falls on the heavier, darker side of YA. In a way, that makes it even more relevant and important to the times we ourselves are facing. The topics mentioned are not easy to digest; there is racism, talk of the Holocaust, death on page, genocide, the anxiety of war and totalitarian regimes, antisemitism, etc...But what this books does right? It gives in-depth conversations on these topics and calls out problematic trains of thought on page. There is also no attempt to romanticize any of these gruesome events. It’s just the gritty and the terrible, told in a way anyone can digest and empathize.
Even though it is pretty dark, we do get the fantastic element and plenty of magic mixed with some science fiction. You would think that would confuse you more but it actually makes the story even more complete and interesting. It was whimsical and terrifying all at once; the perfect magic system.
The book is narrated in three different points of view. We have Ellie’s perspective, Kai’s perspective and Benno’s perspective. This narrative strategy can go so wrong in so many ways but Katherine Locke has it down to a T. Each of these characters voices is easily distinguishable and all of them are equally enjoyable. I never felt myself wanting to skip someone’s part because I wanted to read about all their stories. I would have loved to have read Mitzi’s PoV but I’m guessing we might get that in the next installment!
A diverse cast you can’t help but love. Kai is a Romani boy from England, fleeing his community in order to keep his powerful little sister safe; his friends are everything to him and his heart is full with purpose and promises he must keep. Ellie is a Jewish-American, grand-daughter of a Holocaust survivor; a girl who feels too much but stands up firmly for what she believes in. Mitzi is German and lesbian living in a place in time where being gay is excuse enough to have her arrested; she’s bright and unapologetically her, no matter the consequences. They’re a trio you’ll never forget, I promise.
The romance. I don’t normally enjoy romance in YA as much as I would like to. I find the tropes repetitive and unrelated to the actual story. Sometimes it can take way too much time away from the plot and I end up feeling more irked than giddy. This isn’t the case for Kai and Ellie. I am the captain of this ship and I will sail it proudly until the end of time. If you must know one thing about me, it's that I am a huge sucker for low burn romances and angst. Kai is broody (which is pretty trope-y, sure) but he’s also incredibly loyal, selfless and kind; Ellie is strong and brave in her soft way. Together...they wrecked me. The chemistry between them is undeniable and beautiful. They both want what’s best for each other and even in the difficult times they’re living, they know the value of trust and communication. Above all, they’re friends to each other; seeing them falling in love felt like falling in love.
The writing is phenomenal; there are countless passages that make you stop and think and make your heart break. It's not overly descriptive but there is a lot of internal monologues. Usually that would annoy me but the way everything is narrated is so beautiful. I read this book with a constant ache in my chest. My ARC is thoroughly highlighted and once I get hands on a physical copy I’ll make sure to annotate it even more.
I had only heard good things about this book and several people I trust couldn't stop gushing about it. Sadly I was disappointed.
l liked Ellie well enough. She was sort of bland and I struggled to connect to her. I didn't see any of the extraordinary, amazing, and brave traits that everyone else saw. Kai and Mitzi were both intriguing, but also sort of meh. There is a third POV and once I figured out who it was and how it tied together, I skipped most of those chapters because it didn't bring anything to the story for me.
Plot wise, I was just so bored. There wasn't any real build up or tension. It all felt repetitive. I get that due to the time period, there wasn't going to be frivolity and there were pockets of joy and sweetness. I think that's what kept me reading.
Overall, I liked the idea of it, but something just didn't work. I had to force myself to continue because I was hoping for a twist or a spark that would captivate me. Oh and I absolutely hated the ending.
Judging by the high reviews, I'm in the minority, and it just wasn't for me.
**Huge thanks to Albert Whitman & Company for providing the arc free of charge**
09/27/17: This book is currently $1.99 for Kindle.
I adored this author's District Ballet Company series, so when I found out she was writing a book about magic realism and time travel about WWII, the Berlin Wall, and romance, the question wasn't so much, "Do I want this?" as "How badly do I want this, and when will the book be out?" The story itself seems to be paying homage to Nena's 99 Luftballons; there is no way that they aren't related - especially since the English version of that song frequently appears as "99 Red Balloons." And the "magic" in this book revolves around magical red balloons. How cool is that?
Sadly, this book also follows what I call "music video logic." It would make a good video, but is a bad book. The world building isn't very good. The reader is just supposed to take everything at face value. There's insta-love, and the characters spend way too much time dressing up and going out to the club and laughing over nail polish. I wasn't a fan of the multiple POVs, since all the voices sounded so similar, and Ellie, the heroine, doesn't have much of a personality. I don't care if I love or hate your characters, just make me feel something, anything.
I read to about p.150 in earnest and then skimmed the last 100 pages, hoping things would get better. It didn't. I'm pretty bummed about this, but I guess I'll just listen to 99 Luftballons again. If there is one upside to this book, it is that it got me listening to Nena, which is always a plus. I'm shocked at how many YA bloggers are going to town over this. Did we read the same book? Was I tricked?
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
This book, you guys. THIS BOOK. I didn’t know what to expect going into The Girl with the Red Balloon. Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and I’ve always been fascinated by the Berlin Wall and the division of Germany post-World War II. I went into this book expecting historical fiction set in East Berlin in the 80’s with a touch of magic, but what I got was one of the most emotionally powerful stories I have ever read. This book affected me on such a deep, unexpected level.
The story follows our protagonist, Ellie, who starts out on a trip to Berlin with her high school German class. She is visiting the ruins of the Berlin Wall when she sees a stray red balloon, grabs onto it, and is accidentally transported to the exact same spot in East Berlin in 1988– a year and a half before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ellie gets swept up into the world of the Balloonmakers, who use a peculiar, equation-based (and super fascinating) type of magic written on balloons to transport people from East Berlin to the other side of the Wall, and consequently, to freedom. You would think a story with balloon magic would be whimsical and fun, but you would be wrong with this book. The Girl with the Red Balloon certainly leans toward the darker side of YA fiction. It raises so many important, difficult questions about morality, history, oppressive governments, fear, and everything in between.
In addition to the main plot, this book is part family saga: not only do we read from Ellie’s perspective, but also from that of her grandfather, Benno, who escaped a concentration camp and survived the Holocaust with the help of the first ever Balloonmaker in the 1940’s. The family element in this story is huge, and it really helped tie everything together. Oh man, it was heart-wrenching. This book does not shy away from the horrors of the Holocaust or from the anti-semitism rampant in Germany during that time, so take care while reading if those things are triggering for you.
I want to talk about characters, because the characters in this novel will stick with me for a long time. Of course, we have Ellie, our protagonist, and Benno, her grandfather. Ellie was such an easy protagonist to root for. I couldn’t help but feel for her and her situation. Her reactions to all of the craziness that had befallen her life felt so realistic. She was headstrong and brave, and her character development over the course of her time in East Berlin was absolutely beautiful. One thing I also loved about Ellie is that she is a practicing Jewish main character. It’s rare to see religious protagonists in YA at all, and even rarer to see any who partake in religious traditions other than Christianity. (The Jewish rep in this book is #ownvoices, by the way. Yay!) Then we have Kai, our love interest, who is also a POV character. I loved him so, so much. Again, I couldn’t help but feel for him. He is Romani, so he already feels like an outcast in most of the world, but he also is an outcast from his own Romanichal community back in England, which he had to flee when people started to persecute his younger sister, Sabina, for her magic. He would do anything to protect his family. He’s fiercely loyal. We also have Mitzi, the last of our main trio. Though not a POV character, Mitzi was impossible not to love. She is a lesbian in East Berlin, and started helping the Balloonmakers once her parents kicked her out of the house because of her sexuality. Mitzi seems abrasive at first, but she’s such a wonderful friend to both Kai and Ellie. These three and their friendship, man. It tugged so hard at my heartstrings. There was just such an abundance of love and loyalty among the three of them, and they were always, always there for one another. This wonderfully diverse cast of characters is one of my new favorites in any book, ever.
The romance between Kai and Ellie was completely swoonworthy. The beautiful friendships and romances that developed over the backdrop of such a bleak world added so much hope to this story. One thing I especially appreciated about the romance here is that there was no “woe is me, I love this boy, but we are from different times… whatever shall I do?!” narrative from Ellie. She loved Kai, and she just let herself love him without all of the angst, and vice versa. This story and these characters already had enough angst without an unnecessarily angsty romance, so that was much-appreciated. They had undeniable chemistry, and seriously, I’m not usually a shippy person, but I will go down with this damn ship. They deserved the happiness the other person brought them in such a bleak world, okay???
Obviously, the setting was dark as hell. I mean, one timeline chronicles a Jewish boy during the Nazi regime through his time in the ghettos and in a concentration camp, and the other chronicles three people of historically persecuted groups in freakin’ communist East Berlin in the 1980’s. I have read books set during the Holocaust, but none set in East Germany. I really enjoyed (that’s a strange verb to use, but whatever) reading about this particular city during this particular time. You really got a sense of the fear and hopelessness that had settled over the city by this point, but also of the spark of rebellion that stayed alive til the very end and ultimately helped bring about the demise of this oppressive regime. So, yes, the setting is decidedly grim– and Locke doesn’t shy away from the horrors of either of these time periods– but the relationships and the characters are what make the story bearable to read instead of just a giant black hole of sadness.
I don’t want to go too into detail here about the magical elements, because I think they’re fun to discover on your own. I will say that I thought the balloon magic was incredibly unique; I’ve never read anything like it. I love that it was equation-based– it was rooted in logic, but also it wasn’t entirely logical, because, like, it was still magic. I hope we get to learn more about the magic of this world in the next installment! I still have so many questions. The story also features a mystery element. I mean, clearly Ellie was not supposed to end up at the point in time where she did, and throughout the book the characters try to puzzle out how a malfunction in the balloon that caused her time travel could even be possible. The “whodunnit” was admittedly pretty predictable, but nonetheless gutwrenching to read about.
Again, The Girl with the Red Balloon brought up so many questions I haven’t stopped thinking about since I finished it, especially about morality. This book is so deceptively deep. There are pages where you read a seemingly simple interaction or statement, but then the next thing you know, you think about it a little more and end up questioning your entire life and your beliefs. I should probably also mention the fact that this book had an astronomical emotional impact on me– this is the most I’ve cried while reading a book in years. YEARS. Probably since Clockwork Princess came out in 2012. Not only did I cry at random points throughout the book when something touched me, but I straight-up sobbed through the entire last 10% of the book, and, upon finishing it, cried for another half hour. The ending wasn’t even sad, just incredibly bittersweet and beautiful.
If you haven’t gathered it from my review, The Girl with the Red Balloon is one of the most powerful, emotionally impactful books I’ve read in my life. I cannot recommend this story highly enough to everyone.
Guys, do yourselves a favour; either go and request this book on NetGalley, or take note of when it is released (or do both, like I am) because it is seriously one of the most beautiful, magical, heartbreaking stories I've read. It made me cry on numerous occasions.
This review is going to be all over the place because my emotions are all over the place. The ending is so perfect, but so sad and it just...gah. I'm crying again.
"What could change if we started to measure society's successes not in wars won but in moments in which we countered injustice? When good did win out over evil."
If I had to describe The Girl With the Red Balloon in one word, it would be magical. Ellie Baum's grandfather is a Jewish World War II survivor, and Ellie has grown up being told the story of how he escaped a death camp; that a girl in a purple dress handed him a red balloon, and it took him out. So when she is in Germany on a school trip, and she sees a red balloon, she grabs it, wanting her picture taken with it. She is transported back in time, in East Germany where red balloons are able to take people over the Berlin Wall, to safety.
The love and relationships in this book are incredible. Apart from Ellie, we have Kai, a Romani boy who would do anything to protect his little sister, and who helps to transport people over the Berlin Wall. We also have Mitzi, a German girl with a family who can never accept her sexuality, partner to Kai in helping those in need of escape. They both fall in love with Ellie, in very different ways.
"I was the girl with the red balloon who shouldn't be in the black-and-white world of Walls and fear and lies. He was a kaleidoscope boy born at the wrong time in the wrong place, too bright for here, too much for everywhere else."
I could share endless amounts of quotes from this book, but I won't spoil things for you. I will, however, leave these two with you, and urge you to keep a lookout for this book.
"Be good and be sparkly and flirt with a stranger, darling."
"One time, I spent six months back in time. I fell in love with a boy who had no obligation to love a world that only gave him grey skies and loneliness. I fell in love with a girl who loves so fiercely that she holds the world together. I fell in love with believing in magic. If you give a girl a red balloon, she'll believe in magic and memory. If you give a girl a red balloon, she'll never want to let go."
*Thank you so much to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me the chance to read this book*
"The Girl with the Red Balloon” is the first installment in Katherine Locke’s historical fiction, young adult “Balloonmakers” duology. It follows a girl named Ellie Baum who finds a floating red balloon during a class trip to Germany, which transports her back in time to 1988 in East Berlin, Germany.
Amidst the dangers of being in East Berlin, Ellie befriends a group of people referred to as “Runners.” The group helps others cross over the Berlin Wall to West Berlin with the use of magical red balloons crafted by Balloonmakers. As she lives among the Runners hiding from the police, Ellie tries everything in her power to find a way to travel back to her own time period before she accidentally alters the past and can not return home again.
Along with Ellie and her love interest Kai’s narrative, the novel also follows the point of view of a boy named Benno, who is living in a ghetto in Poland in 1942. While the story centers mostly around Ellie traveling back in time to East Berlin, the plotline delves further into the past to show Benno’s life during World War II. It showcases the horrors of both time periods that eventually intersect with one another.
Ellie is a strong-willed Jewish-American girl coming to terms with her religious identity and accepting who she really is when going back into the past. She is a resilient, selfless and well-rounded female lead that is sure to inspire readers of all ages. Her striking personality comes right off the pages of the story, and her narrative is relatable enough that anyone is sure to find themselves reflected in her character.
“The Girl with the Red Balloon” is an atmospheric and emotional story. It shines a light on one of the darkest parts of history while also weaving in magical elements to create its own spin on a traditional historical fiction novel. Locke mastered the art of creating vivid historical settings and a striking group of diverse characters of Jewish and Romani descent that will leave a lasting impression on readers.
This story discusses self-identity, relationships, religion, hope, race and war in a wondrous and insightful way. It also highlights the importance of relationships of all forms and how love can help transcend time and leave an imprint on one’s heart.
“The Girl with the Red Balloon” will open readers’ eyes to pieces of history that must never be forgotten and leave them breathless with the powerful story.
It's the next day now (I finished this at 11 last night) and I'm still shocked by how much I enjoyed this book.
Do you like: -Jewish main characters -multiple points of view -time travelling stories -diversity (Jewish mc, Romani mc, queer mc) -historical fiction -learning more about the Holocaust and the Berlin Wall ?
Then you'll love this book. I most definitely did.
My very small quibbles: -I wasn't a *huge* fan of the writing style. By the middle of the book, I was used to it, but it was nothing outstanding in my opinion. -It took me a bit to get into the book. I was thoroughly engrossed after a while, but at the beginning, I was a little confused.
Other than that, I really enjoyed it, and would highly, highly recommend you check it out when it releases. Katherine Locke has written a masterpiece that is especially timely right now, and will do a lot for so many people. The characters and story will stick with you long after you finish. I'd never read a YA about the Berlin Wall or even set in that time period before, and I am so happy this book exists.
Review in more detail to come soon.
(Thanks to NetGalley for providing me a copy for review.)
“Most of the things we think are selfish aren’t at all. We’re just so conditioned to think that wanting things is wrong.” ― Katherine Locke, The Girl with the Red Balloon
I will be honest. I had a rough time with this book and took to skimming.
I thought it was going to be very very different then what it was.
I thought it was going to be lighter and/or more whimsical. I’m not a big fan of time travel books anyway although I have a few.
But I was very confused at the beginning of the book as I found it extremely choppy and difficult to follow.
I also was not into the whole Insta love thing. That happened way too quickly with no development of the characters and their romance.
I did adjust eventually but I didn’t really get into the story very much. This was a book club selection and many of the the members did not really love this either.
I also did not know it was part of a series .I guess I see what people would like. There’s a fantasy element to it and of course there’s the Historical aspect.
For me I had a really tough time. I really don’t skim that much unless it's impossible for me to really get into. I cannot say that the writing wasn’t vivid or not good or anything like that. It’s just that sometimes certain books are for certain people.
Overall, I liked this one! I'm looking forward to Locke's future works.
I thought the time traveling aspect was incredibly fun, especially because I'm not a huge time-traveling person despite loving science-fiction. I liked the idea of the red balloon, serving as a way to save lives and as a huge symbol during this time period. I also enjoyed the shifting POVs between Benno, Kai, and Ellie, as I felt as if it gave me more development as to the impact of the red balloons and the time-traveling aspect.
The romance was also super cute and developed, and I liked the incorporation of information about the Berlin Wall and the personal perspectives as to how it affected daily lives. Overall, if you enjoy Jewish characters (as well as a swell of other characters from different backgrounds), time traveling, and German history, be sure to check out this one!
Thank you to Edelweiss and Albert Whitman for providing a copy for an honest review.
“If the story was happy, you’d care less about that tiny little bit of freedom . . . We wouldn’t like the daylight if it wasn’t for the night. We wouldn’t notice the stars if not for the endless dark of night. All the story, like you said? That’s the important part. The sad parts are all about surviving. We are a people that survives. We endure. We will endure this too.”
I’m torn about this book. Really and truly torn. On one hand, the subject matter, the concept, the ideas behind this book are fascinating and intensely moving. I have been somewhat of an amateur WWII buff with a focus on Germany (specifically children in Germany) for more than six years now, and have cultivated a deep understanding of the weight of recent German history through interviews with those who lived it, as well as my own experience studying in Berlin, so I loved the subject matter of this book. And adding in magical elements as well? Heck yes! On the other hand, there were glaring problems in the structure, characterization, and plot elements that made exploring these themes problematic.
Ellie Baum is a 16-year-old American high school student visiting modern Berlin when she is swept into 1988 East Berlin by a stray red balloon. She is picked up by a group of dissidents who use magical means to transport Stasi victims safely across the wall. But Ellie hasn’t just been transported across distance, she has also been transported across time. As Ellie and her caretakers delve into the mystery of her appearance, they begin to uncover a dark plot within their own ranks, and Ellie must come face to face with not only German history, but with her family’s as well.
I have deep family roots in Germany. My German grandmother lived through WWII before immigrating to the US in the ’50’s and in recent years I have taken the time to hear and understand her story. In the winter of 2013, I studied abroad in Berlin, Germany and this city with an unimaginably heavy history has come to weigh forever on my heart. How do you stand in the street besides the dual ghosts of Nazism and the Berlin Wall and not feel suffocated by the weight of it all? How does a country reconcile and heal from a century of darkness? If you could go back and change things, would you? Locke wrestles with these intensely poignant questions in The Girl with the Red Balloon as Ellie comes face to face with history.
But I think that is precisely where the book fell short. Ellie, as a character, is not very compelling. She reads as a stereotypical high school student in a way that is more frustrating than relatable. Though Kai recounts numerous times how marvelous and brave she is, the reader rarely encounters a time when she demonstrates it. There is too much time spent telling how the reader should feel about the characters and not enough time showing those strengths. I do think that the point of Ellie’s character growth was that she learns bravery and to stand up to things she thinks is wrong, but the emphasis was all wrong. Ellie does begin by falling to pieces numerous times, but she is also described as brave from the beginning, so I was confused as to what she was supposed to be. And her chemistry with Kai was almost non-existent. It was a classic case of “you woman, me man, we must fall in love” which was rather disappointing.
What I wanted to see more of was what went into getting people across the wall. I felt that we saw so little of East Germany and what it was truly like–the constant psychological stress of neighbors and family members reporting you, the sudden imprisonment of loved ones for no reason, the facades that had to be kept up to keep the Stasi off your back, etc. I wanted to hear those stories. I wanted to understand why the balloons were so important, why East Germany was a place people were willing to risk their lives to flee. Yet, so little time was spent on such a fascinating concept, and far too much time was spent following . . . Ellie, who was holed up in a house for most of the book. And then spends a lot of time mooning over Kai.
The most compelling moments came from Benno, a Jewish boy swept into the horrors of the Holocaust. Our flashes back to his story are haunting, lyrical, and intensely emotional. I could believe in the magic of the red balloon in the midst of the horror, could resonate with Benno’s choices and the way he wrestled with his faith in the face of so much evil. His story, and the resonance of history surrounding the holocaust, were handled in a respectful manner, paying homage to those who lived through such a grizzly injustice.
But in comparison Ellie seems . . blank. I think Benno’s story held the right balance of history and magic. There is a mystery to the balloons that is lost in 1988. Too much is explained about the magic, and it is no longer compelling. In 1988 the focus is not on Germany, but on Ellie and Kai who are not German. And maybe that is why this segment of the book fell short for me–because Ellie cannot understand what it is like to be German in East Germany, or to be German and a Jew during the Third Reich. To have love for your country, and yet to have that country despise you. Benno understands that. Mitzi understands that. Kai understand it to a degree, but not in the context of Germany. We get hints of it from them, but I wish it could have been more focused.
Understanding the juxtaposition of the Third Reich and the immediate division into east and west is essential to understanding German history. But you cannot compare the regimes and you cannot cast blame on East Germans for “not standing up to the government.” East Germany and its rise is so incredibly complicated, that comparing these evils is like comparing apples and oranges. Germany was annihilated by the Russians at the end of WWII, soldiers committing atrocities against the German people in an unparalleled rampage of revenge. Millions of German women were raped. Millions of people were burned out of their homes. The Russians swept in and annihilated, leaving no possible way to resist their new puppet state. Sometimes things don’t just happen because people are too afraid to stand up–things happen because people have no other choice.
Bravery and what it means to do the right thing in the face of history is so much more complicated than most of us can imagine. When Ellie blames Mitzi for not standing up to the East German regime, Mitzi immediately puts Ellie in her place: “I believe that on the other side of this, I’ll be here to make my country a better place, a place where anyone can be anything. You can be self-righteous some other time, Ellie Baum, but not to me. Not right now. I’ll never compare our suffering now to the Holocaust, but I’m not my grandparents.” I agree with Locke that the sins of their ancestors should not be pinned on the current German people, however, Germany as a country has done a remarkable job of memorializing and apologizing for what did happen. These horrors cannot and should not be forgotten and the question that needs to be asked is how can we, as the human race, keep such an atrocity from happening again.
One of the most problematic moments for me was the ending. I won’t spoil it, but the motivation driving the “bad guy” made me pause and go “seriously?” It felt like such a cop-out. I could rant about this in a lot more detail about why this was so problematic, but that would be giving too much away.
I want to thank Netgalley and Albert Whitman and Co. for kindly sending me this ARC e-book. This was my first ARC and I am honored to have been able to read and review this book. There were many moments that were truly beautiful, thoughtful, and evocative. But there were also moments that read like stereotypical YA, when I thought this book could have been so much more than that. I appreciate that Locke took on something so fraught with weight and darkness and the complexity of the human psyche, and I wish that more YA authors would wrestle with such poignant history.
*Reposting because this beauty is actually out now. Do yourselves a favor and get you hands on it ASAP*
If you gave a girl a magic balloon, she’ll become something else.
OKAY. Can I just say that if this isn’t the best book I’ve read all year (I don’t think I can take that position away from ACOL) then it’s the one that’s left the biggest impact on me. And it still takes the cake as second best book. I requested this after having read ONE great review but still wasn’t fully prepared for what I was getting myself into. This book is a prime example of historical fiction and time travel done right—EVERYTHING about this book is done right. And as a person who love time travel that should really mean something.
Ellie is a modern day student who is in Germany on a study abroad trip. Her grandfather, who was actually a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, used to tell her these stories about magic red balloons and how one actually saved his life while he was being transferred from a Polish ghetto to an internment camp. Oh a whim, she goes to grab it and ends up in East Germany in 1988.
The city hummed with a frenetic sort of energy, the kind that came when people say the light at the end of the tunnel and realized it wasn’t the oncoming train. It was hope. The world was changing. We were along for the ride.
Now, I was born in 1991 and I’m going to tell you straight up that it was unbelievable for me to read about this place, one continent over, that had people living in that much fear only three years before I was born. I know that people in different places around the world are STILL living in that kind of fear but…this book in particular made me feel so sheltered. In all of my twenty five, almost twenty six years I have NEVER known that kind of fear. And it just kills to know that I have it so easy when so many others don’t. I think that this book is a good reminder of that. What’s out there even still today.
But I digress. Let’s get to the other parts of this book that had me laughing, SOBBING, and everything in between. Well let’s see. First of all, ALL of the characters were amazing. Ellie, the main character is probably one of my favorite female protagonists of ALL TIME. Other than the small breakdown she has after being transported back in time (and I mean who WOULDN’T freak out about leaving YOUR time and friends and family) she is calm, cool, collected, sassy. UGH I fucking love her. Kai and Mitzy are just as amazing. Oh—and by the way, this book is DIVERSE. Ellie is Jewish, Kai is Romani, and Mitzy is gay. And that’s just who they are and we get to see how being those people in that time period affects their lives in a place that is so unforgiving.
For those of you who love romance, the stuff we get in here is SO BELIEVABLE AND WILL GIVE YOU BUTTERFLIES AND SO MUCH MOREEEEEE. I just want to cry thinking about it. I don’t want to say any more honestly, you’ll just have to read it and find out yourself. Not sure what direction book two will go in or who will be in it but I am already dying to get my hands on it (which is super depressing seeing as this one doesn’t even come out until September).
If you give a girl a red balloon, she’ll believe in magic and memory. If you give a girl a red balloon, she’ll never want to let go.
Overall, this book just goes to show that one person, magic or no, has the ability to change the course of history with even just one decision—exactly the kind of book that we want to be reading in this day and age.
A HUGEEEEE thank you to Albert Whitman Company, NetGalley, and Katherine Locke for allowing me to read this eArc. It will stick with me FOREVER and I know I will be recommending the shit out of this book for years to come.
Please Note: I received an advance reader's copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.
East Berlin in the 1980's was a seriously messed up society. One could look out their window and see the freedoms of the West, yet their city was on lock-down. Neighbors were rewarded for spying on each other, and the Stasi (secret police) bugged people's homes. I visited a country behind the Iron Curtain in the 80's, and it was bizarre. I remember entering stores where the shelves were bare. Waiters would whisper in our ears and ask us if we wanted to sell our western clothes. I think the author captured the bleakness and desperation of the city, and the resilience of it's people perfectly.
Who wouldn't want to escape an oppressive regime simply by holding a bright red balloon? The symbolism of invisibility was powerful. So many people did small, brave deeds during the Soviet era: broadcasting banned news and music, helping others hide and escape, NOT turning in their neighbors. The quiet defiance of people faced with the impossible was on display in this story.
I also enjoyed the secret society of people using magic to smuggle others out to The West. The use of the disused subway system as the group's headquarters was a eerie touch.
I particularly liked the ongoing threat of discovery by the police. As an American who only speaks a little German, Ellie is in constant danger. She needs to find a way to blend in to, not only a different political reality, but also to another time. It made for a tense game of cat and mouse whenever Ellie was out in public. What if someone speaks to her? Will she be able to pass for a Berliner?
Ellie has a resiliency to be admired. While she does have a tough time accepting her new situation, she quickly realizes that a key component of her survival is perfecting her German. What a way to be motivated towards fluency! I appreciated that Ellie didn't act spoiled or self-important. She grew to empathize with her new friends and see their struggles as her own.
What I Was Mixed About:
Although I enjoyed the secret society, I didn't feel that this was explained enough in the novel. I would have liked to have more background information, and more character development of the people who founded the group. I'm sure the author thought this would bog down the story, but I think it would have added more to the story, and even presented some openings for a sequel!
What I Didn't Like:
I thought that the resolution of what happens to the bad guy was very rushed, and a little convenient for the story. I would have liked to know more about this person and why they did what they did.
I also didn't find the ending very satisfying. I don't like putting in spoilers, but the ending was very abrupt. I needed to know what actually happens to Ellie!!! I was surprised when the book just ended as it did. I, the reader, have invested so much time in the book, the characters, the situation... I needed more!
Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for approving my request for a free digital copy in exchange for a review.
The Girl with the Red Balloon is a welcome addition to YA literature, and it worthy of being in the same category as "The Book Thief" and "Shades of Grey." However, unlike the former, the Girl with the Red Balloon blends history and fantasy in order to tell a story that is indeed well-needed.
The book has three main characters, Ellie, Kai and Benno. I found most of the characters, with the exception of Benno, very well-developed. I can't say that I have a favourite but I do believe that readers will see aspects on themselves reflected on the page. I only wish we had seem more of Mitzi. With respect to Benno, I wish there were more of his story given how central he is to the plot.
The writer uses a triple narrative storyline in order to develop the plot and it definitely worked in a non-distracting way. The triple narrative is engaging and looking back, I do believe the story would have been less interesting if only told from the perspective of the main character. It is worth mentioning that there is a bit of romance. It is, however, extremely mild and does not detract from the plot in anyway. Again, it seems like a tool used for advancing the story as it difficult to conceptualise the story developing along purely platonic lines.
Locke's writing style is very engaging. The writing felt very personal and it was easy to be fully immersed in the story. Although I found the plot engaging, The Girl with the Red Balloon falls into the same trap that that other time-trail books often do, that is readers have no idea what's going on on the other side. Although it is addressed on page I wish that readers would have been privy to developments in the original timeline. The pacing of the story was also very strong, while there was a bit of a lull towards the middle of the book, the latter half was very engaging and I found myself skipping ahead to find out what was happening. Locke does a great job of building anticipation in that regard. One minor point to note was that the resolution of the plot does come way into the latter half and could be considered a bit rushed.
Setting is a huge part of this book and it's very difficult to imagine this story in a setting other than Berlin. Locke manages to weave together a tale that relies as much on setting, politics and history as it does on characters and plot. This is truly a commendable feat.
In summary, The Girl with the Red Balloon was an enjoyable read. I would recommend to teens who are interested in history, specifically European history.
"No, I'm not often afraid. I have too many stories inside me to be afraid."
The Girl with the Red Balloon is a sweet and unique story that checked all the marks. It's not too remarkable, but the simple writing is engrossing and the forbidden romance is pleasant. Who doesn't devour stories with lovers from different time periods? Granted, this one could've progressed at a more natural pace and developed over a wider span of time, but it's still enjoyable. When Ellie first arrives in 1988 Berlin, she is dazed and frightened, and starts to wonder who she truly is anymore. Her self concept is no longer as clear as that which she held in the twenty-first century, but she gradually uncovers what her vices and virtues are and embraces them. The shifts in perspectives between Ellie and her grandfather Benno in 1940s Nazi occupied Poland, create such an enticing atmosphere that I couldn't help feeling drawn into. How pieces from both their stories work together to paint a picture hidden beneath the plot is also quite entertaining. The relationships between Ellie, Mitzi, and Kai are all wonderful, and I admire how the author balances the platonic and romantic bonds between each. The plot is quite fast paced, and despite being predictable at times, is certainly satisfying and makes this novel worth reading.
This book was amazing! I love the way time travel worked with the rich emotional and historical journey the author takes you on. The world building was great and the author definitely did her research. The character building was done really well especially for the time period the book is set in. I felt like I was there to witness history. I highly recommend!
Jewish American high school student Ellie Baum has left Pittsburgh and arrived in Germany for a spring break trip with her German Language class. Ellie thinks this trip will give her an excuse to practice German and give her perks for her college applications. Her Saba, a Holocaust survivor, didn't want her to go and she doesn't completely understand why but she will.
"We are strange, sometimes, in the ways we choose to bear witness"
When her friend Amanda wants to go flirt with a boy by the Berlin Wall Memorial, Ellie spots a red balloon and thinks of her grandfather Saba and his balloon stories. He called beautiful days balloon days. She thinks a kid may have accidentally let go of the ballon and to draw her friends attention from the boy, asks her to take a picture of Ellie with the balloon. She thinks it will be a beautiful gesture for her grandfather.
When she grabs the string on the balloon she is transported to 1988 East Berlin, Germany. The balloon is a portal of sorts but not meant for her and the book is non stop hold onto your seat action and drama rollercoaster. The scenes about the Holocaust were gut wrenching and I cried. The friends she makes stay with you as she tries to figure out who she can and can't trust. I'm so excited to read the next book!
My heart is full. This book ticks all the boxes in the list of "Things Shae Needs":
1) A time travel element that I could pretty much follow (pretty much, which is not damning with faint praise--there's only one time travel book I've solidly followed ever, so time travel books join the ranks of horseshoes and hand grenades here.)
2) Historical fiction that WORKS. This story actually taught me something about the era(s) it was set in, as the Cold War is a weird time that my brain slots as historical but really wasn't that long ago. I had to work through the fascinating cognitive dissonance of "They said DNA! DNA is a modern thing, they can't possibly--oh. Wait."
3) No easy answers. There's a lot of injustice in the world, and overlapping injustices don't cancel each other out. I thought the plot did a great job of highlighting those muddy waters and not settling for a quick fix and a glib pat on the head. It helps, too, that at least some of the experiences presented were own voice, and that I trust Katherine to tread carefully.
4) The romance was lovely and gentle and sweet.
5) The friendships were perfect. Seriously, the Ellie-Kai-Mitzi triumvirate was rockin'.
6) The magic was cool. I don't completely understand it, but it's magic (with a science base!) so I'm fine with that. I do want to know more about Ashasher's feathers, though.
7) The storyline is bittersweet. As much as I love pure fluff, I can also appreciate the realism. Part of the story takes place in a Nazi work camp in Poland. Part of the story takes place in East Berlin during the Cold War. These are not happy places or happy times. There is no happily ever after here, but neither is there total crushing despair. I can even get on board with the ending, because I thought it was a daring choice, though the lack of closure makes my heart roar.
8) This one is purely personal--holy crow, is it terrifying to read a friend's book. What if I don't like it? What do I say then? BUT HOORAY THIS BOOK WAS GREAT AND I CAN SCREAM OUT MY PRAISE WITH A CLEAR CONSCIENCE AND HAPPY HEART YAY YAY YAY YOU DID IT BUDDY!
Now, if you'll excuse me, I am going to check out a bunch of Cold War books from the library to fill in the rest of my knowledge and then build a little bunker outside of the author's workspace to away her next book.
The premise of this story was actually beautiful, it just lacked “something special”. The writing was a bit all over the place and was there really a need for the f bomb so many times? The romance too was typical.
However, though the magic in this book was a bit far stretched I did think it was a great concept; “a labor of love”, Locke says.
The Girl with the Red Balloon seemed like it was going to be a book that left my mind blown. However, it didn't. I liked how it was unique and everything.. but honestly, nothing really struck out to me. Which kind of ended up disappointing the heck out of me.
Now I liked Ellie. She was so naïve and young. I loved it. She went to Germany, even thought her grandfather didn't want her to. It was for school, well her German Class, and since I have never been to Germany I was twiddling my thumbs to see her POV about it. Especially when the red balloon comes into play.
When we dive into Berlin, 1988, man was that an eye-opener. I have a love/hate relationship with books that revolve around our world's bitter past. Mostly because I love getting to see different sides to a story but hate that I end up ugly crying. It happens a lot but I know that our history sucks ass. I hate that people went through things that they didn't have to.
So yeah, I definitely ugly cried while reading this book.
Overall, I'm happy that I finally dove into this and now I'm pumped/scared to dive into the second book of this series.
*I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*
In 1942, a boy escapes from Chelmno concentration camp holding onto a red balloon.
In 2017, the granddaughter of that boy grabs the string of a red balloon and is transported back to Berlin, Germany, 1988.
I'm not a big fan of time travel books in general, and I wasn't really impressed by The Girl With the Red Balloon's take on it in particular. I found the plot a little aimless and the twist a little obvious. That's not to say the plot was bad — it wasn't, and there were exciting parts — I just wasn't reading it for the plot, not really. I found myself reading it for the writing and the representation.
So on that note, let's talk about writing and Jewishness.
I didn't find the style to be absolutely perfect, but it was beautiful and it ended up growing on me a lot. I have so many gorgeous quotes highlighted in my reading app, and the style definitely made what would have been a tedious plot (to me) enjoyable. I really love Kai and Ellie and Mitzi, and their friendships and romances and personalities. (The romance plot actually deserves a bigger mention — Kai is my new book boyfriend)
But the thing that got the most emotional reaction from me was Ellie and her grandfather, who has his own subplot, being Jewish. It's not extremely common to find Jewish representation in books, and it's decidedly uncommon for it to be Jewish representation I actually relate to. But I loved that Ellie was determined to celebrate Shabbat, even stuck in 1988, and how her stubborn commitment was echoed in the story of her grandfather illegally taking part in religious ceremonies (like Passover, specifically) in the ghetto. Despite being mostly a story about the perseverance of ordinary people during dangerous times of history, The Girl With the Red Balloon was also a story of Jewish perseverance at all times, no matter what.
And that's why this book gets five stars. So maybe it wasn't an absolute favorite and I shouldn't rate it quite so high, but I'm indulging myself. It was beautifully written and personally important to me, and anyone who actually likes time travel will undoubtedly enjoy it even more. Five stars. Fight me.
This one hit me so hard. What an emotional, utterly compelling book. Katherine Locke is an absolutely brilliant writer and a plot weaver like none other. Time travel stories always kind of leave me scratching my head, but not here. It's expertly crafted; I never felt disoriented. I'm still shook by all the threads (forwards, backwards, and sideways) in the timeline and the characters' relationships. This is the sort of book that makes you immediately flip back to the first chapter after you've finished the last page, hunting for Easter Eggs (I think I found one!). Not to mention the heart-wrenching themes of loss and grief from the Holocaust survival story woven throughout.
THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON deserves all the awards this year. It's that good.
(I received an early copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Full disclaimer: I'm Katherine's critique partner and friend, so. BUT. But. I read this book in its early stages and what a lush, beautiful, magical world Katie has created. There's so much to love in this book—the romance, the magic, the Jewish heroine and historical setting, Katie's prose—all of it is magical and wonderful, and you'd better be picking up this book when it comes out.
Me, a self-proclaimed history devourer & wannabe SPONGE (Red Balloon reference, anybody?), travelling to Berlin in her summer holidays, OF COURSE requested this on NetGalley - not really expecting too much... boy, was I was blown away (gettit, like a balloon is blown away? Looool)
SO, FOR YOU HISTORY NERDS OUT THERE, we have: - (fictional) first hand accounts of being a Jew in 1942 in Berlin, in Łódź ghetto AND in Chełmno concentration camp -the majority of the book set in the DDR, East Berlin in 1988 (one year before the Berlin Wall comes down, but obvs the character from that time period don't know that) - a dark-skinned Romani living in East Berlin in 1988 (where racism is still rife, against Jews and Romani - who were statistically most impacted by the holocaust) - a gay girl with blue hair (!) living in East Berlin in 1988 - and references to other strifes in the 1980's, i.e. South Africa, Iran etc etc ... and all of these storylines intertwine with a girl from the present, a girl with a red balloon.
FOR YOU MAGIC BELIEVERS AND READERS, we have: - people born with magic in their veins - this magic can make you invisible, make things fly, make words glow & hence have a magical impact, and TIME TRAVEL (controversially) - magic communities fighting against oppression, helping people escape from East Berlin over the wall, and from other places of oppression, with magic flying balloons - MAGICIANS GONE ROGUE - watch-dogs that watch over the magical communities
AND IF YOU JUST WANT TO READ A REALLY GOOD BOOK, we have: - brilliant structure. The book is split into a few point of views, but bare with me - it's not confusing at all, I promise. In the beginning, we are in 2017 with our mc Ellie, a Jewish girl, the granddaughter of a holocaust survivor, on a school trip to Berlin. With a little help from a red balloon, we now have Ellie's POV from East Berlin in 1988 - sometimes we have Kai's (who found Ellie in 1988, works for the people with the red balloons) POV. Also, emotively, we have a young Jewish boy's POV on his life through the Nazi rise in power, the Łódź ghetto and the beginning of arriving in a concentration camp, Chełmno. - great pace! I was never bored, the swell of characters meant there was always something going on, plenty of dialogue, and a steady unravelling of mystery (remember that MAGICIANS GONE ROGUE I mentioned? Yeah, that) - romance between a Jewish girl from the future and a Romani boy from the past....... kills me - all the characters. Just all of them. Ellie is the mc and is, understandably, wanting to get back to her own time period at the same time as being eager to learn about the time period and what came before it to understand her family's history, her character development is great and I loved the contrast between the present-day "I use my best friend to hide behind" and the 1988 Ellie who finds the courage to ignite a fire & is willing to burn for her best friends - Kai, who ran away from the only community he ever knew to save his sister when they wanted to institutionalise her, is fierce and passionate and everything I wish I was brave enough to be. - Mitzi will stay with me for a long time - her character is so beautiful. Unapologetically who she is; fearless, german, gay. - I even loved the more minor characters, Sabina without a home, Aurora weighed down by the pressure of time, Felix with his obligations to his job.
Reading the first page about Ellie on the U-Bahn in Berlin, whilst I was on the U-Bahn in Berlin, was an experience to treasure, just like this book is... so many important lessons are conveyed, with all of my favourite things: the lessons of history, conflicting opinions, the importance of human rights and the influence of a little glitter and magic every now and then. Thanks for this one Locke, I'll remember it.
"One time, I spent six months back in time. I fell in love with a boy who had no obligation to love a world that only gave him gray skies and loneliness. I fell in love with a girl who loves so fiercely that she holds the world together. I fell in love with a few good people who used their magic for good, and I fell in love with a few more people who used it questionably but whose hearts meant well. I fell in love with believing in magic. If you give a girl a red balloon, she’ll believe in magic and memory. If you give a girl a red balloon, she’ll never want to let go."
// Thanks to NetGalley & the Publisher who provided me with a copy of this in exchange for an honest review //
A copy of this novel was provided by Albert Whitman Company for review via Edelweiss.
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.
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
Oh, how I adored this book! Fun fact: The first, say, fifteen to twenty pages were not the strongest start to a book. In fact, I was downright wary of it. BUT. Things changed, and they changed quickly. As soon as Ellie pops (get it? Like a balloon?) back in time, into 1988 East Berlin, the whole tone of the book shifts. It goes from feeling like a campy contemporary in the first few pages to a magnificent story with an incredibly important social commentary in a matter of pages, then doesn't let up. And now, I shall explain how and why.
The most striking aspect of the story is its eternal relevance. Yes, it is centered in two very specific points in history: The tail end of the Berlin Wall's oppression, and the Holocaust. But looking at our current political and social climate, it's clear that this story applies to not just Germany's history, but is the tale of an ongoing struggle that humanity is always in the midst of. It's a story of the brave people who stood up against evil, against wrong. And if that isn't a lesson we need now more than ever, I don't know what is. Using the character of Ellie, a modern day teen, to see the atrocities of the past was a perfect choice. At first, Ellie seemed quite vapid to me, quite mundane. But I feel like that might have been the author's intention, looking back on the story. Ellie was all of us. Living her daily life, worried about her friends and family and classmates and what she'd be doing in her free time, and how she looked. But in the literal blink of an eye, Ellie was transported to something more than her normal cushy American life. Ellie navigating this world felt relatable because she was such a normal girl, thrust into a dangerous and important time. Ellie's lessons extended beyond the historical ones. The bonds she formed while she was in East Berlin were so incredible. She found the power of female friendship, of love, of mentors. She had to navigate who could be trusted, how to handle herself in dangerous situations, how to make tough choices. And certainly she made mistakes, but again, I think that was important to the story. The story was incredibly emotionally provocative. The flashback chapters to the Holocaust were positively gutting. And the tension in East Berlin was absolutely palpable, the danger apparent and imminent.
This was exquisite. I am absolutely looking forward to the next book set in this world, and while I think an epilogue or even a sequel would be amazing, I do understand why the book ended as it did. Apart from a bit of a slow start, this book completely captivated me.