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.
Review: I'll be honest, I wasn't going to pick this book up. I hadn't heard enough about it, so I didn't know if I would enjoy it. Boy, I was wrong. Sadly, I didn't care for Ellie very much. I thought her history and relationship with Germany was interesting but, as a person, I didn't care for her. The other characters though were fascinating. Kai and Mitzi were great companions. I appreciated how Kai took care of his sister even though he was infatuated with Ellie. My favorite scene with Mitzi was when she and Ellie talked about Germany's past and the negative way Germans are still seen. When you have such a dark past, it is extremely hard to come back from that. I thought it brought a beautiful and necessary conversation to light about misconceptions and assumptions. Sabina was neat, but something about her didn't sit right with me. She's supposed to be a teenager, but she acted developmentally behind. More like a small child than a teen. I could see that if she had a developmental issue, but that was never really discussed. Kai described Sabina as a prodigy, but I didn't get that vibe.
The story was a fun ride. I don't read a lot of historical fiction, but I definitely haven't read one that incorporated magic as well. The story shifts between 2 different time periods. One was 1941-1942, where we follow Ellie's grandfather as he endures Nazi Germany. The other is 1988. This is where we follow Ellie in her adventure. I wish the story took place in only one time period, but I understand why it was handled this way. The way the 2 settings were woven together was interesting, and heartbreaking. Plus, it was good to see how things change, but also how they stay the same between these time periods. There is still plenty of racism and judgement even 40+ years apart. There is a slur used a couple of times in this book, but it was addressed a couple of different ways. I'm not Romani, so I can't say if it was handled "well" but characters address the slur and the author even talks about it in her author's note. One little thing that threw me off was the instances where the text read "G-d" instead of "God." I wasn't sure of the characters were saying "God" or "G" "D." This is primarily how the word is shown in the book, but there were also times where it just had "God." So, that was weird to me. There might have been a reason and I just didn't realize it.
The Girl with the Red Balloon is unlike any other historical fiction book I've ever read. It's beautifully written with a unique cast of characters. Definitely worth picking up.