The Girl with the Red Bal­loon (The Balloonmakers)

  • Review
By – December 19, 2017

Author Kather­ine Locke com­bines mys­tery, his­to­ry, and time trav­el in this first book of The Bal­loon­mak­ers” series. The pro­tag­o­nist, six­teen-year-old Ellie Baum, is on a class trip to West Berlin when she’s sud­den­ly whisked away by a red bal­loon to East Berlin, time trav­el­ing back to 1988 when East and West Berlin were sep­a­rat­ed by a wall. Ellie’s grand­fa­ther, Ben­no, had been saved from the Lodz Ghet­to by a girl with a mag­i­cal red bal­loon. Chap­ters about Ben­no and his family’s expe­ri­ences dur­ing the Holo­caust are scat­tered through­out the book.

In East Berlin, Ellie meets two young adults, Kai and Mitzi, who are mem­bers of a guild that uti­lizes sci­ence and mag­ic to help peo­ple escape via bal­loon from East Berlin to West Berlin — and to free­dom. Both Kai and Mitzi are mem­bers of a per­se­cut­ed minor­i­ty, as Kai is of Roma descent and Mitzi is gay. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, no one in the guild knows how to send Ellie back to West Berlin and her own time peri­od. As Kai and Mitzi help hide Ellie from the com­mu­nist author­i­ties in East Berlin, they devel­op close friendships.

One day, the group makes a grue­some dis­cov­ery — they find the dead bod­ies of peo­ple who were unsuc­cess­ful in escap­ing. After this inci­dent, Ellie receives cit­i­zen­ship papers so she can move around open­ly. Will Kai and Mitzi har­ness sci­ence and mag­ic to return Ellie to her real life? This book keeps the read­er in sus­pense but it’s chal­leng­ing, at times, to keep track of the story’s mul­ti­ple threads.

Rec­om­mend­ed for read­ers ages 14 to 18, espe­cial­ly those who enjoy adven­ture and time trav­el tales.

Noreen Wachs is the librar­i­an at Ramaz Mid­dle School in New York City. She received her library degree from the Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty of Jerusalem. She is the trea­sur­er of the New York chap­ter of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Librar­i­ans and has been an active mem­ber of that organization.

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