Title: The Girl with the Red Balloon
Author: Katherine Locke
Published: September 1, 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
Ellie grew up hearing the stories of the magical red balloon that saved her late grandfather from a German WWII concentration camp.
When she took a school trip all the way to Berlin from the USA, Ellie expected to practice her German while she finally explored Germany—a country her grandfather never forgave for all his heartache. Instead, her life turned on its axis after she noticed and latched onto a floating, red balloon reminiscent of the ones from her grandfather’s tales. In a blink of an eye, she was flung back and trapped in 1988 East Berlin where the past, present, and future were fantastically more entangled than anyone knew.
I found this book randomly in my library and decided to give it a whirl because the setting intrigued me. No story I read had ever took place in East Berlin, and any matters relating to the Berlin Wall interested me as a whole.
That being said, I picked this book up on the basis that it was purely historical fiction, but somehow missed the fact that it would contain magical elements 😅. Fortunately, I didn’t mind the twist. It was easy enough to dismiss the thought that Ellie should be more rattled about her turn of events because, from the first page, Locke made it clear that Ellie grew up with stories of magical balloons.
Disclaimer: There may be what could be considered as minor spoilers ahead. I can’t tell lol, but just a warning.
However, the one detail I was extremely wary about in the story was the time-traveling. Essentially a YA fantasy, I had good reason to presume that there would be a romantic story-line in The Girl with the Red Balloon. The issue with this was, from what I had seen in the past, romance and time traveling characters didn’t end well (if you know, you know 🙁). This meant that no matter what events occurred from start to finish, a large part of the ending was already spoiled.
Lo and behold, there was romance—and it was hugely central to the plot. I didn’t mind it too much since, for what it was worth, an unfortunate time traveler and regular person make for an exciting dynamic. Ellie’s relationship with her love interest was sweet to an extent, but also so delicate, like the characters and readers knew how it would all pan out.
Predictable ending aside, I was honestly confused during some parts of the book. I felt like I was pulled from scene to scene and expected to understand and accept certain details, when maybe there should have been more world-building. The magic and mystery surrounding the balloons was fascinating, but it didn’t seem fully fleshed out. It was all sort of minimally explained, like it only existed enough to move the plot along.
“History is riddled with death. We’re all here because of ghosts.”
I wasn’t clear on what the story’s message was, until the mystery and various story-lines concluded on a touching, yet bittersweet note.
In the end, The Girl with the Red Balloon was about remembering the ghosts of the past so that we can be better in the present and build a greater future.
It was a message that had been preached time and time before, but The Girl with the Red Balloon took a unique approach by using magic and time travel to explore themes of lineage, regret, and hope.
The Girl with the Red Balloon was a familiar cautionary tale about avoiding the mistakes of the past. While it was ultimately predictable, I appreciated its thought to reinvent the story with an emphasis on family, fantasy, and many, many balloons.
If you enjoy historical fiction about WW2 and the Berlin Wall, I’d recommend this story with a magical twist.