My rating: 2 of 5 stars
“If the story was happy, you’d care less about that tiny little bit of freedom . . . We wouldn’t like the daylight if it wasn’t for the night. We wouldn’t notice the stars if not for the endless dark of night. All the story, like you said? That’s the important part. The sad parts are all about surviving. We are a people that survives. We endure. We will endure this too.”
At first glance, this book seemed to be exactly in the middle of my wheelhouse. WWII historical fiction with a touch of magical realism that was such an intriguing premise. We follow , a time-traveler who has heard stories from her grandfather about this red balloon and the girl who saved him her whole life. When she goes on a school trip with her class to Eastern Berlin, she gets transported into the dangerous world of 1988 East Berlin.
And the story takes off from there, where it goes into a bunch of boring times when Ellie is stuck at home and feels like a prisoner, falls in love and has a romantic fling that's completely unnecessary, makes the most bada*s feminist friend that she could ever want, and make things explode with her impulsive anger. This is a brief summary of the events that was going on, none of them are spoilery, just vague enough to keep someone interested or unimpressed.
There is a diverse cast of characters, a Jewish MC, a Romani MC, and one of the side characters is queer. I really appreciate that the author was able to so seamlessly incorporate the identities of these characters into the story. It's hard to get multiple POVs chapters done, and it rarely impresses me and that's the same case for here. In some ways I felt like Benno's perspective was kind of the most boring one, and would have been better explained otherwise (in the form of a bedtime story or storytime) instead of making it a consistent chapters throughout.
Also the character of Ellie herself, felt like the stereotypical high school girl who takes selfies, is well of, and can't imagine a world without all of this technology at her fingertips. Problem is, and this might be a me problem, is that I felt no emotional connection to this character. I think that the reason for that was that she wasn't compelling or "brave" or "marvelous" like Kai often praised her to be. She was just an average person who I didn't care about what happened to her; which makes me feel almost guilty when people call this book a tearjerker but for me it just didn't click.
Honestly another thing that ticked me off was how little actual history/setting we were getting. I wanted politics, revolution, resistance and none of this appeared in the content on page. The atmosphere of this book didn't portray an intense dark picture of fear, death, the authorities, etc that were definitively present during that time period. Maybe this is a fault of the writing itself, but I just thought that we should have gotten more details on the actual passage of the people holding the balloons, more details about the magic system, more details about who gets selected and how,etc.
Lastly that ending, man, it gets a thumbs down from me.
**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**
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