The Extra by Kathryn Lasky
Thank you Candlewick Press for sending an advanced copy of this book to be read and honestly reviewed by What A Nerd Girl Says. This in no way shaped my opinion in this review!
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Is the chance to serve as an extra for Hitler’s favorite filmmaker a chance at life — or a detour on the path to inevitable extermination?
One ordinary afternoon, fifeen-year-old Lilo and her family are suddenly picked up by Hitler’s police and imprisoned as part of the “Gypsy plague.” Just when it seems certain that they will be headed to a labor camp, Lilo is chosen by filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl to work as a film extra. Life on the film set is a bizarre alternate reality. The surroundings are glamorous, but Lilo and the other extras are barely fed, closely guarded, and kept in a locked barn when not on the movie set. And the beautiful, charming Riefenstahl is always present, answering the slightest provocation with malice, flaunting the power to assign prisoners to life or death. Lilo takes matters into her own hands, effecting an escape and running for her life. In this chilling but ultimately uplifting novel, Kathryn Lasky imagines the lives of the Gypsies who worked as extras for the real Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, giving readers a story of survival unlike any other
Look, there are a ton of books out there, and there will continue to be books out there about the travesties of World War 2, because this is an insanely important part of history, of our history. If anyone ever questions the need to write another book about it, then that’s the answer. But this book really caught my eye because it went beyond, capturing a piece of the WWII history that I was not as familiar with.
When you read a WWII book, you always read about the persecution of the Jews, because, of course, they got the brunt of it, definitely. But I feel like people often times forget that Gypsies, homosexuals, people with physical or mental disabilities were also heavily persecuted. This is where Kathryn Lasky picks up.
I was on my journey for advanced copies of novels when I came across this book. I thought the title was interesting and so was the cover. But what really caught my eye was the tagline, “A girl’s fate is in the hand’s of Hitler’s favorite filmmaker.” After researching the book a little, and finding that the story was based in historical fact, I immediately shot an email off to Candlewick. I was really excited when I got it in the mail yesterday, and after realizing that it releases in a few days, I realized I had to read it fast, to review for you guys.
I think that Kathryn really dives into a part of history that we don’t get to see very often. The main character, Lilo, is Gypsy, and the book immediately starts off with she and her parents being taken away, and the journey goes from there. It is at one camp where famous actress, and now director, Leni Riefanstahl, comes to find Gypsy extras for her movie, based on a Spanish folk opera. Lilo is chosen, along with her mother, and her friend, Django. At first the deal doesn’t seem too bad, because while they’re still corralled around like cattle, they’re fed better, clothed a bit better, and they’re working on a movie. But it doesn’t really take long for Lilo to figure out that there’s so much more to Leni that previously thought and that’s where the drama comes from.
They think for a moment that they could be safer, but in reality, they’re tiptoeing around even more. Leni is a volatile, furious person who can be extremely cruel. When one of the extras, Lilo’s friend Unku, is realized to be so extremely pretty, Leni orders for her hair to be chopped, and personally shaves a bald spot on the back of her head. And I think that’s something that Kathryn really tackles in this book. She shows that there are dangers in every part of this life, and during this war. Lilo is in as much danger with Leni as she would be with a hardened Nazi soldier.
I do think that Lilo could have used a bit more personality; a lot of the story is told through her mind and she seems so…accepting of so much. She obviously gets upset but you don’t see a lot of real rage or fear or any of that. The book has a great story, a compelling one that we don’t get to see much when talking about World War II literature, especially in YA, but its surprisingly lacking of emotion. I only wish I could have seen more of Lilo’s emotions during this time.
But like I said, the story is an absolutely compelling one. Its a story that I had never heard before, and it showed a different side of history during that time. You know that the Gypsies were part of Hitler’s reign of terror, but you don’t focus on them as much, because of that main focus on the perscution of the Jews. Seeing a part of the Gypsy history, and how they were treated, and used, its horrifying, but its addicting at every turn. To know that something like this happened, where a group of people who were hated, but still used. Its just an interesting story.
5 out of 5 stars