When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process.
This might be one of the few ARCs that’s still full of errors but is simply so good I couldn’t put it down and automatically gets 5 stars. The story gives us three perspectives, Ellie, Benno, and Kai. Ellie is in Germany for a class trip to see the country her grandfather was originally from before the Holocaust. However, when she grabs a red balloon during her trip, she is sent back in time to 1988 and East Berlin, a time when the wall was still standing. She meets Kai and Mitzi who are Runners of balloons that are full of magic that helps people flee from horrible places to freedom, which was how Benno, Ellie’s grandfather was saved from death himself.
The plot of this book carries from page one to the end. It’s never dull or boring for a single second. I had such a hard time putting this book down. It was a quick read in that sense because it brings you on such a journey without a minute of dullness that keeps you completely captivated. And unlike most time travel books, it’s not over down or using the same tropes throughout the book that leave it feeling boring. It’s original in every sense and so is the magic in it as well. It combined both magic and science into an almost believable mix that makes you curious but leaving you unsure if you should ever touch a red balloon again.
The characters to me felt real, which is always the key to what I’m looking for in them while reading. Each of the three main characters and Ellie’s friends all have a connection to those prosecuted during the Holocaust. Kai is Romani, Ellie is Jewish, and Mitzi is gay. All of this is still important for Germany in this time when Communism is still big in East Germany and people were still being prosecuted for being different and disappearing. This story reminds us that things are more complicated than we understand, just like situations and characters are. We watch characters go through motions, with understanding the trauma to people and learning to understand that generations of Germans that weren’t involved in the Holocaust aren’t their grandparents. It’s all complicated matters that are talked through and discussed that are super complicated and neither side is right or wrong.
Like I mentioned, the ARC I received was full of errors within the writing. Some were as small as the wrong tense of a word to little things in the plot that probably wasn’t changed when she sent it to the publisher, which is understandable. It made for some confusing moments, but the story itself was so good that it helped carry the story despite it.
One being was Kai mentioned that only the balloon makers can see balloons once in flight because their blood is used in the magic. However Aurora tells Ellie she can’t. This was never said either way if it was a mistake or something in the plot. Another was the fact Runner’s learn the train schedule due to the location of their headquarters. They know the times of trains, but only once do they ever check their watches for the time. This bothered me a bit seeing as its used for a plot twist later. I wish it had been mentioned a few more times though just in my personal opinion.
Do I recommend? Yes. Go support Jewish authors right now anyway with everything happening right now, but make sure you preorder this book or get it when it comes out. It’s worth the read and is honestly amazing. I can’t wait for the next book already. I already know I’m going to miss this read and I just finished it.
Rating: 5 stars