Title: The Girl With The Red Balloon (The Balloonmakers #1)
Author: Katherine Locke
Category: YA Historical Fantasy
Publisher/Date: Albert Whitman Company/1 September 2017
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.
This book has content warnings for war themes, concentration camps/death camps, martial law, suicidal ideation, racism, use of g*psy slur (not condoned; done for historical reasons in certain chapters), homomisia, building fire/arson, and murder.
I absolutely loved The Girl With The Red Balloon. At first I had a little trouble understanding the time/POV jumps between chapters, but that’s something I have trouble with frequently. I really loved seeing the different points of view; Ellie and Ellie’s younger grandfather were particularly fascinating to me. The book was solidly rooted in the history of the two time periods, and I felt that worked really well when paired with the fantastical elements of the story.
I loved Ellie as a character, and I really felt her struggle and terror at different parts of the book because she knew that she was in a very real danger that could leave her dead in a time period that wasn’t her own. She does consider suicide a couple of times in the book, which may be important for some readers to know — it was largely portrayed as something that could prevent her from being tortured by those who wanted to harm her, and while it popped up a few times it wasn’t a pervasive theme throughout the entire novel. I also really loved the connection to her grandfather and her Jewish heritage; I felt like I got a really good sense of her as a person.
I also really loved having a lesbian character (Mitzi) and a Romani character (Kai) who were central to the story; both faced oppression regularly (It was 1988 East Berlin), and yet they were both comfortable with themselves. It’s worth noting that Ellie’s grandfather uses the g*psy slur during his chapters; Locke explains in the afterward that this was because that was the word that was used in the 1940s and that there wasn’t a historically accurate alternative. The only other time it has been used in the story was when it was used in a derogatory manner against Kai in 1988, and it is explained in-text that the word is a slur.
I also really liked the romance between Ellie and Kai. It was quick, but it wasn’t forced and it felt like a natural progression. I really liked how they interacted and how they complemented each other as people.
Overall, I thought this was a wonderful book. If you’re looking for a really good historical fantasy, you should give this one a try.
Final rating: 5 of 5 stars