The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke (review)
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Reviewed by
Kate Quealy-Gainer, Assistant Editor
Locke, Katherine The Girl with the Red Balloon. Whitman, 2017 [288p] (Balloonmakers)
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-8075-2933-1 $16.99
Paper ed. ISBN 978-0-8075-2937-9 $9.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 7-10

Despite the objections of her German-born Jewish grandfather, sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum joins her class on their trip to Germany. While they’re visiting the Berlin Wall Memorial, a red balloon randomly floats by, and when Ellie impulsively grabs it, she suddenly finds herself transported to the dark streets of 1988 East Germany. Fortunately for her, Kai, a Roma boy who’s member of an underground resistance group, finds her before the Volkspolizei do. Kai’s a Runner, sending desperate people over the Wall on the strings of balloons enchanted by the Schöpfers to make their passengers invisible—the balloons, though, have only ever transported people from place to place, not through time. Until Kai’s colleagues figure out what happened with Ellie’s balloon, Ellie is stuck in 1988, but as she becomes closer to Kai and [End Page 122] his cause, she’s not entirely sure she wants to go home. Narration alternates among Ellie, Kai, and a boy named Benno in a World War II concentration camp, who is eventually revealed to be Ellie’s grandfather. The shared storytelling gives both historical context and emotional resonance, clearly conveying the idea that our present is built on the ghosts of past events and people. This is most palpably explored when the Schöpfers do indeed find a way to make a balloon that goes through time and are then faced with the decision to change history, leading to potential chaos, and or leave it as it is, choosing a set of events that while tragic are at least known. These are serious, heavy themes, and the heartbreaking ending is no less thought provoking; hand this to readers looking for the personal dramas behind the facts in their history book.

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