The Girl with the Red Balloon

288p. Albert Whitman. Sept. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807529331; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780807529379.
Gr 7 Up—Locke's debut is an intricately plotted historical thriller with elements of science fiction and magical realism. Sixteen-year-old Ellie grew up hearing her grandfather, who survived the Holocaust, tell a story about how he was rescued by a girl with a magical red balloon. So when Ellie spots a red balloon flying by during a school trip to East Germany, she reaches out to touch it—and finds herself sent back to 1988 East Berlin. Once there, she befriends local rebels Kai and Mitzi, and learns that these balloons comprise a sort of underground railroad helping provide a means of escape for East Germans. The narrative is divided between Ellie and Kai in 1988 and her grandfather's experiences during and after the Second World War, allowing for a sensitive exploration of the long-lasting effects of war and subjugation, especially on marginalized people (Kai is Romani, Mitzi is queer, and Ellie's family is Jewish). Locke's ambition is clear, though at times the multitude of plot threads and time periods can feel confusing. A solid introduction to the issues faced by teens in 1980s East Berlin.
VERDICT This sophisticated, unusual work is likely to appeal to fans of World War II and Holocaust fiction, as well as those who like their history with a tinge of romance and magic.

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