The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke
Fantasy novels are supposed to make you rethink your surroundings. Magical doorways, fairy circles, talking animals, and superpowers can all be found in our everyday lives masked by the ordinary. Will you travel through time by walking up the back staircase? Can eating the perfect apple freshly picked from the tree lead to magical sleep?
Will holding a red balloon transport you through time? If you happen to be visiting the Berlin Wall in Germany while on a school trip, beware the red balloons.
Growing up, Ellie Baum listened to her Grandfather tell the story of how he was rescued from a Nazi death camp by a magical red balloon. Ellie always played the story off as fantasy and while visiting Germany herself on a class trip, she sees a beautiful red balloon and knows she needs a photo of herself with it. But once she touches the balloon, she finds herself far away from the Berlin Wall Memorial, and at the Wall itself. Now in 1988 Berlin, Ellie meets Kai and Mitzi, two balloon runners who use the magical balloons to help people escape to West Berlin. But how did Ellie get here? Where is the original balloon passenger? Who is tampering with the balloons and why?
This book was completely absorbing and incredibly well written. I loved how quickly the story moved-the action was constantly moving. The relationships between the characters was very relatable. How do you handle wanting to pursue a relationship or, even a friendship, when you're constantly trying to find your way home? Through Ellie's discussions with her new friends and the flashbacks to her grandfather, there was a lot of Jewish history that was new to me. At one point, her grandfather Benno is telling the story of the Exodus to his future rescuer, Aurora. After hearing the story of the Exodus, she complains that Jewish stories are sad and why aren't there any happy stories? Benno tells her, "I've told you two stories that end in freedom," I protested. "How much happier could you ask for? I just loved that quote.
I really enjoyed this book and cannot recommend it highly enough. I'm not a highlighter or underliner, but this book had more sticky flags in it than any other book I've read in a long time.