Review: The Girl with the Red Balloon

I have boxes and this book ticked them.

There's time travel: TICK
There's a meet-cute: TICK
There are a couple of excellent strong female characters: TICK
There's a villain with a backstory: TICK
There's a WWII setting: TICK
And also some Berlin Wall era Germany: TICK

Do I need to go on with the ticks or is everyone getting the gist - this book is GOOD.

It's the kind of book I wished had been around when I was younger, actually, when the Berlin Wall coming down was still too recent to really be history in the way I thought of history and yet still too far in the past to be current affairs and thus one of those things I knew of but not really about. & I mean I know there's a massive time travel element to this book but that doesn't make the story it tells any less true or any less important and honestly, a big part of me feels like if we want to keep these mental parts of our history alive for future generations - which we have to because to not is incredibly disrespectful - then they kind of have to be made accessible, you know?

This book makes history - the history of the Berlin Wall, of life in East Germany when East Germany was a place that was (and still it blows my mind that it was, that when I was learning to ride a bike and walking barefoot on the beach and crying because I really really wanted a pair of red shoes, people 900 miles away were living the kind of messed up society I can scarcely imagine), and also the history of the terrible awful things that happened to Jewish people when Hitler was being awful - accessible because it comes at it differently. It's not just another WWII story to tug at your heartstrings. I mean, it is that, but at the same time it's fresh and fun and interesting. Did I mention the time travel?

So the basic premise is this: Ellie Baum is an American teenager on a school trip to Berlin, present day. Her grandfather is Jewish, a survivor of the Holocaust and she's grown up listening to him tell her stories of how he was saved by a girl with a red balloon. She's always thought they were just that: stories, until she finds a red balloon and is suddenly not on her school trip anymore, Toto, but instead in East Berlin in the 1980's with no idea how she got there and less idea how to get back. The story jumps back and forth from Ellie and East Berlin and magic balloons to the 1940's and her Grandfather as a boy, living in a ghetto in Poland. I just loved how original it was - this is a bok the likes of which I have never read before and that's always the most refreshing, a brand new and original take on a thing is like an Aperol Spritz. I love an Aperol Spritz.

It's a sad book, of course it is - it's about two very bad times in history, and I suppose you could say it's a little bit dark (racism, the Holocaust and thus genocide, character death, war, totalitarian regimes and so on and so forth) but at the same time it's a hopeful book and a warm book and also kind of a fun book. DID I MENTION THE TIME TRAVEL?! Honestly, give me all the magical realism all of the time.
Most of all though, if I had to sum it up, it's a book about hope and it's about survival and it's about friendship and faith and believing in something bigger and better. It's beautifully diverse and the writing and the characterisation which we all know is what I live for, is so good. Its a split narrative - told from three points of view - and it never gets confusing and never feels choppy and you're never anything other than fully engaged and sometimes, sometimes it gave me goosebumps.

ALTHOUGH I WAS NOT SATISFIED BY THE ENDING. I mean, wow, so abrupt - the kind of abrupt where you wonder if the last chapter has gone astray and that made me so sad because I'd been so so so invested up to that point. Why do people not understand my deep-seated need for closure.

This book, though, really. I loved it.

One time, I spent six months back in time. I fell in love with a boy who had no obligation to love a world that only gave him grey skies and loneliness. I fell in love with a girl who loves so fiercely that she holds the world together. I fell in love with believing in magic.If you give a girl a red balloon, she'll believe in magic and memory.
If you give a girl a red balloon, she'll never want to let go