DIVERSE READ: #Ownvoices Jewish MC* + Romani MC
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Summary: 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.
My thoughts: The Girl With the Red Balloon is officially one of my favorite novels of 2017. I didn’t realize how much it would impact me, but it managed to find a place in my heart through its powerful message and heartwarming characters that I never wanted to stop reading about. This fantastic story follows 3 POVs*, two taking place during 1988 in East Berlin, and the other taking place during 1942 in a ghetto in Poland. Majority of this novel focuses around Ellie, who accidentally time travels back to East Berlin with the help of a magical red balloon, but it also follows a character living in a ghetto in Poland during WWII. Both narratives are so well written and deliver a powerful story showcasing the horrors of WWII and the equally troublesome times that followed after the war ended.
I absolutely loved every character that was introduced into this story. Ellie, our Jewish American main character is so precious and strong-willed and resilient throughout her entire journey back to East Berlin after World War Two had ended. She has become one of my most favorite female characters because she is so kind and thoughtful while also being headstrong and able to protect herself and others. I also really enjoyed reading about her Jewish customs that was woven into the story in such a simplistic way that left an imprint on me. Her character development is so well written and I only wished I was able to read more about her life because she is such an interesting character that I loved learning more about.
Kai, the male protagonist of the story, also shares a lot of his Romani heritage as well throughout the story. I have never read a book following a Romani character before, so learning more about his culture and the language he spoke was so insightful and interesting to read about. I also completely adored Kai because he was the sweetest and most thoughtful character around, and just seeing how kind he was melted my heart. He was such a wonderful brother and friend. The relationships he had were incredibly important to him, so he quickly became a favorite character of mine as well. I’m a sucker for a healthy and loving sibling relationship, like the one that Kai had with his sister so that only made me fall deeper in love with this novel. Kai and Ellie were the perfect protagonists, and I only wished the book was longer so I could read more about their adventures together.
What I also loved about this novel was the magical elements woven into a historical storyline. The idea of having balloons helping people escape East Berlin during the 80’s was such a unique concept that initially drew me into the story in the first place. By mixing fantastical elements into a piece of history, it offered a unique take on a piece of history. I also loved the fact that this story had so many cultures woven into it, as well. The use of language from various ethnicities and the practices of different religions made the story so much more realistic and really showcased each culture in a positive light.
This book was everything I wanted and more. It follows two storylines that interconnect as the plot develops, showcasing the horrors of WWII and the aftermath of the war in Germany during the 80’s which is hardly ever spoken about. The magical elements woven into the story were well developed and explained in a way that wasn’t too complex to understand. This story also had a beautiful love story between Kai and Ellie that didn’t overtake the entire plot but still had enough love and precious moments that it stole my heart whenever they were together.
This story discusses self-identity, religion, hope, race, and war in a beautiful and insightful way. The narrative is awe-inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time, and I cannot recommend this novel enough. It will open your eyes to pieces of history and people’s lives that have not been spoken about enough and will rip your heart in two. I highly recommend this story and will never forget the characters and message it had to send.
* MC = Main character
POV = Point of view
** I received an E-ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. **