Posted in Fashionably Late Reviews :)

‘The Extra’ by Kathryn Lasky is a careful history lesson

I’m always a little wary of any literature, especially fiction, that takes on any element of the Holocaust. I think it’s incredibly important for young people to learn and to appreciate what a horror it was, but it needs to be done in the right way.

I recently saw on twitter some raging surrounding certain adult titles that had been/would be released that romanticsed and glorified certain aspects of the Holocaust, and even though I have not read these books, I can say with certainty that that is NOT the way to do it. At all.

However, I think YA does history well. Generally speaking it’s well researched, empathetic, careful and intelligent.

I think The Extra is no different.

It’s a strand that I’ve never seen explored before. Fifteen year old Lilo is rounded up by Hitler’s forces and imprisoned for being part of the ‘Gypsy plague’. If you could call it a stroke of luck, she finds herself being chosen to become an extra in a film being made by one of Hitler’s favourite silcer screen ladies. This woman, Leni Riefenstahl, is TERRIFYING. And was also very real.

What I liked about Lilo was how real her survival instincts were. She wavered from ballsy and brave to shaking and scared. And isn’t that how anyone might act? Equal parts fearsome and fear?

It’s a very cinematic story, no pun intended and as I said, it was really interesting to learn about this small slice of history that I did not know even existed. Roma and Sinti people being used as film extras to look Spanish, or exotic, or simply ‘other’. It was free labour, and those chosen were treated far better than most who found themselves a prisoner. The food was better, they were clothed, kept cleaner and warmer.

The horrors of Buchenwald not withstanding, they had a slightly better lot. It did not make it any less dangerous; and even escape was treacherous in itself.

The Extra is both heart breaking and uplifting. I say this because I think it does offer both strength and hope even in the darkest moments. The end is not what you might call ‘happy’ but it is certainly determined, and it’s fascinating to think on how far Lilo has come; her journey is exhausting. It’s atrocious. But her character does not break in the face of so much loss and vile treatment.

This is not an easy read. The writing is great and allows you to simply sink into the story, but it’s a real thinker of a book. It took me right back through everything that I learned in school as well as have seen on television and in person. The concentration camp, Auschwitz, is held up like the ultimate nightmare in this story, and having visited what remains of both camps, I can wholeheartedly agree with this use. Auschwitz is horrible. Even now.

A really solid read. I feel that because of the angle chosen to tell this story from, it makes it light enough and yet uncomfortable enough… if that makes sense? It’s not too full on, but it doesn’t miss out any of the horror or terror.

(Borrowed from my local library. Thoughts and opinions borrowed from no one)

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YA writer. Epic reader. Professional procrastinator.

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