Review: The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke

Review: The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke
Series: The Balloonmakers #1
Published by Albert Whitman Company on September 1st 2017
Pages: 288
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

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.

“If you give a girl a magic balloon, she’ll become something else.”

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.

Bottom Line: 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.

(I was going to give it 4.5 stars, because of the rocky start, but then I decided that this is absolutely one of the best books I have read so far this year, so screw it, I do what I want and I am giving it five stars.)

If a balloon was going to drop you back in time, where and when would you want it to be?

Posted August 15, 2017 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in Review / 20 Comments

20 responses to “Review: The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke

  1. The flashback chapters definitely hit me in the feels the most too. YES! An epilogue would be awesome. Maybe Locke will close up the fate of these characters with the prologue of the next book, as she has mentioned, it will have different characters. I hope she keeps the Balloonmaker characters though, because we did not get the full story with them. Great review.

  2. Eeep, that’s so awesome it was an amazing 5star read for you!!🎉 Why haven’t I even heard of this book till now!??? 😱 . I don’t generally gravitate towards HF but I actually just read a reeeally good one and it makes me want to read more! It was 1930s set in Scotland so basically that’s where I’d timetravel to if I was going to.😂Definitely checking The Girl With The Red Balloon out on GR now!!

  3. This one sounds so awesome! OMG. It definitely sounds like an entertaining book, but not only that – it seems like it would be a really important and perspective-altering one too! Great review, I’ve seen this one around a bit lately, so it must be one to keep an eye on!

  4. I am still SO happy to have found someone who adores this book as much as I do! I totally agree– Ellie was the perfect lens for modern readers to view East Berlin through. Like you said, she is all of us. The relationships she formed with other characters and the growth she underwent during her time in East Germany were BEAUTIFUL. This book honestly makes me want to weep just thinking about it. (Also, I’ve been toying with raising my rating from 4.5 to 5 stars because I seriously have not stopped thinking about this book since I read it, and you have convinced me to do that.) Beautiful review, Shannon! <3

  5. You’re the second person I’ve seen review this book and I think I might have to check it out. It sounds so interesting and it’s definitely an original read. I also love a good historical setting. I always like to think I’d like to travel through time but then I remember I love the modern conveniences. I would just like to pop by for a few hours in a different time I think and experience lots of different eras.

  6. I was reading through your review and just going “yes yes yes, that’s what I thought TOO”.

    But uh yeah, totally misjudged the first couple of pages. And yes I know it was you who told me to keep going as the writing gets better. I know okay. I know.

  7. Okay I immediaterly thought of 99 Luftballoons when I saw Germany and red balloon maybe because of this sorry couldn’t help it. Anywayyyy… glad this was good, it sounds awesome. I love that it takes a modern American back into that period of time, and looks at the Holocaust too- because obviously we can never forget that. So yeah it sounds powerful. And timely? Good grief scary how timely this sounds!

    If I could go back – man so many choices. I’d wanna see how they built the pyramids maybe? Or maybe the birth of Christ- religious or not that would answer a LOT of questions!?! As long as I can come back. Because pizza. And The 100.

  8. Omg, awesome review Shannon! I literally can’t with this glowing review. 😀 I can’t wait to read this book. Time traveling always captures my attention, and I love the fact that this one transports readers into such an integral part of history and giving it a very realistic and down-to-earth feeling. The character growth in this one sounds awesome too, which is always what I like to see. I’m definitely going to pick this up when it comes out soon!

  9. I’m a sucker for a time travel element and I freaking love that the time travel in this case was to recent history (well, recent as in my lifetime, anyway). Most time travel novels are zipping someone back 400 years to Scotland. This is a great twist on the TT genre at a time that was actually full of big change. My only concern is the flashbacks within the TT… it sounds like too much but I’m guessing it totally worked since this was a five star read. 🙂

  10. WHY HAVEN’T I HEARD OF THIS?? It sounds incredible and it must be for you to have given it a 5 star rating! *_* It sounds like quite a unique story and one that carries an important message, too. Wonderful review and thank you for bringing this book to my attention!

  11. I’ve already been incredibly excited for this one, but your review just made me 1000% more excited for it. I love historical fiction and really enjoy time travel books, because there’s something very fascinating about seeing a modern day character having to get by in a totally different time.

    Wonderful review!

    Veronika @ The Regal Critiques

  12. I skimmed through your review, honestly, because I have an e-galley but I’m SO GLAD you five-starred this!!!! I’ve been so so looking forward to this. That cover and this concept is so insanely unique. I love how it tackles real important issues and ugh, I’m so excited to start this already. Thanks for sharing your review! 😀

  13. For some reason, this book was not on my radar at all, and now I’m seeing it everywhere and wondering WHY? I think that all I could think of when I saw the title is that little short film “The Boy with the Red Balloon” (I assume that’s on purpose), which I loved, but somehow the association threw me off or something? I have no idea. There is no excuse and I must read this.

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