Sometimes you read a book and you just want to gush and gush and gush! That’s my current feelings about The Girl with the Red Balloon. I’m already a huge sucker for historical fiction and then you add in magical realism and just, the most tender and compelling characters and I’m completely SOLD.
I’m also really proud because I started reading this book and purposefully read it slowly. Which is super hard for me! But I wanted to savor the writing and character because the whole story is just beautifully told.
And in an unusual tale of a book review, I actually have no criticisms for this story??? There’s no pet peeves or negative aspects to list because I simply loved this entire book. Very rare, even for me a fairly positive reviewer.
Now, I could just ramble on about how much I just enjoyed this story. But I need some sort of outline because I am some sort of professional! Right? I mean, I did go to college for something. *cough* not blogging, but I digress.
The Multiple Perspectives Works Seamlessly
One thing that worked incredibly well in this story were the multiple perspectives. And I do sometimes get annoyed with multiple pov’s in books. But not this time! And it wasn’t just multiple narrators. But two diverging timelines. And that can be bad™️ because different times are confusing. but for The Girl with the Red Balloon, it WORKED so well!
I was equally invested in both timelines, and actually was excited for every character’s pov. I might have wanted Kai to have more chapters, because I LOVED Kai, but I’ll be grateful for any Kai perspective. Ugh, Kai was so well written. So rounded and all around kind.
Speaking of, let’s chat about the characters.
Kai. Mitzi. Ellie. We absolutely stan a trio of beautiful characters absolutely dominating the page with rich personalities. But don’t forget Benno! Haunting Benno. Tears.
Kai is Romani and I haven’t read many books featuring Romani storylines. And Kai’s inner monologue about home and longing not only interwove his own complicated feelings about family but were directly tied to his ethnicity. Kai is a state of eternal exile and making his own family in the world. But while Kai is separated from a rooted home and family, his sister and found family mean everything to him.
Mitzi, oh Mitzi, my new favorite! Mitzi is flamboyant in a era that punished her sexual identity, as well as individuality. Being a lesbian in East Berlin is dangerous, but Mitzi doesn’t hide from her sexuality or run from danger. Mitzi risks her life again and again for countless folks trying to escape East Berlin – but she, a woman’s whose own identity is illegal, chooses to stay. A brave soul.
And finally, Ellie short for Eleanor. Ellie who snaps at Kai for trying to shorten her name to El. Ellie is an American Jewish teenager, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. Probably the most emotionally poignant moment for me was when Ellie lit the Sabbath candles. Lost in time, in a city she barely knows, with people who speak another language, Ellie finds comfort in practicing her family’s faith. The comfort and yearning interwoven with her faith, it gutted me emotionally.
And now, let me ramble about the theme! because the theme is maybe my favorite? I adored the characters and emotions, but kept tearing up at the way history kept mixing into this emotional tale.
First, I’m not a huge fan of time travel because I think it’s just not very realistic. But for this story, it felt raw and real. Ellie is turned inside out by being yanked into 1988 East Berlin. She knows the Wall is coming down, soon. But the people around her don’t really want to know. Knowing the future is tricky and do you really want to know what might happen?
And then, the idea that we might be able to go back and save the world from itself. Could we stop Hitler and the Holocaust? A question that pops into our sub-conscious constantly – asked over a dinner conversation or in a philosophy class. And one that is well and truly asked in this story.
If Ellie’s family survived the Holocaust, or if Nazi Germany didn’t even happen at all, would her family even be the same? Would it be right for her to fix her family story? I’m not going to answer the question for you – go read The Girl with the Red Balloon and discover the answer alongside Ellie.
I love tough questions, I love history, so put these elements together with a compelling emotional story, and I’m an official wreck.
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.
Have you read the Girl with the Red Balloon? If so, what are some of your thoughts? Do you have a favorite time in history for books to be set?