The Spy with the Red Balloon

368p. Albert Whitman. Oct. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780807529348. POP
Gr 7 Up–This follow-up to The Girl with the Red Balloon again combines historical fiction with magic, sweet romance, and action-packed espionage set during the second World War. Queer siblings Ilse and Wolf are forced to use their blood-based magic to help develop an atom bomb for the Allies, while preventing Hitler from creating one of his own. Physics prodigy Ilse is sent to work alongside an all-female team of scientists in Tennessee, while the more cautious Wolf is put behind enemy lines in Germany. The close-knit duo find a way to secretly communicate using their magic blood to convey letters with balloons. Ilse's new roommates, including the lovely Polly, help her to expand her worldview while Wolf is stunned to find himself working alongside his estranged friend Max. The combination of personal stakes alongside the looming threat of Nazism and nuclear devastation keeps the plot moving while never losing sight of the character arcs and allowing room for discussion of the morality of war and how LGBTQIA+ people and other marginalized groups were treated during this time. This novel stands on its own, though fans of Locke's debut are sure to appreciate the appearance of a crossover character and other subtle Easter eggs. The writing and storytelling has a more focused plotline than the previous book, allowing time for stronger character development.
VERDICT A fast-moving read sure to delight those who enjoy historical fiction. Purchase where the first entry is popular, as well as where there are fans of books set during this period by Markus Zusak and Elizabeth Wein.

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