Rex Ogle’s story of starting middle school on the free lunch programme is timely, heart-breaking and true.
Free Lunch is the story of Rex Ogle’s first term at High School. Rex and his baby brother often went hungry, wore second-hand clothes and were short of school supplies and Rex was on his school’s free lunch programme. Grounded in the immediacy of physical hunger and the humiliation of having to announce it every day in the school lunch line, Rex’s is a compelling story of a more profound hunger—that of a child for his parents’ love and care. Compulsively readable, beautifully crafted and authentically told with the voice and point of view of an eleven year-old child, Free Lunch is a remarkable debut by a gifted storyteller.
This is the true story of Rex Ogle’s life as a young boy living in a low income family.
Rex spends a lot of his time caring for his younger brother, Ford, and trying to protect him from the violence in this broken, desperate family.
Starting 6th grade, his mother tells him he’s on the free lunch programme and his first thought is of shame. He tries his best to hide this from his friends at every lunch time.
At home he is often hungry, his mother’s boyfriend beats her, she in turn beats Rex, leaving him with bruises and black eyes. My heart broke for this boy who just wanted a little love.
This memoir is brutal and brutally honest, told from a kids’ view of the world and the shame he felt at the situation he was existing in.
It’s well written, packed with emotion and really should be on every school reading list. It gives an insight to a world some kids have no choice but to live in.
Heartbreaking and utterly compelling. A MUST read.
Thank you to Anne Cater and Random Things Tours for the opportunity to participate in this blog tour, for the promotional materials and a free copy of the book. This is my honest, unbiased review.
You can buy a copy here
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
REX OGLE is a former children’s book editor. “This is my middle school experience” he says, “but I think it’s an important story to tell, with nearly one in five children in America living in poverty
More about the book
In FREE LUNCH (Norton Young Readers; on-sale 9/10/19), debut author Rex Ogle vividly conveys the immediacy of physical hunger and the humiliation of revealing it every day in the school lunch line, along with a more profound hunger: that of a child for love and care from his parent. This story rings so true in its portrayal of poverty and the familial strains that can result from living in the economic margins, because it is. This is Rex’s story.
But this is not Rex’s story alone; 43.1 million people are living in a state of poverty, 14.5 million of them are under the age of 18. But when he was embarking on his sixth-grade year in Texas, Rex had no idea that there were also other children, let alone millions of others, in such need.
“The worst part of living like this is thinking as I did—that I was alone, that I was shameful, and that I had less worth because of the situation into which I was born,” explained Rex. “But that couldn’t be further from the truth. No child should feel alone. Or ashamed. Or worthless. They need to know that their circumstances are not their fault.”
This moving memoir covers Rex’s journey through his first semester of middle-school as he navigates the inherent physical and emotional growth pains that come with this phase of life, along with the societal pressures he feels showing up at school in worn clothes that don’t fit properly and with the occasional black eye he receives from speaking his mind at home —all in addition to requesting free lunch. Rex is now an adult who traversed middle school and found his way out of poverty, but the struggles of his youth have shaped who is as a man today, and how he views the world around him.
“One day, when I was riding on the subway in New York City, I saw a little girl tug on her mom’s sleeve and heard her say, ‘I’m hungry.’ Her mom hugged her, but didn’t say anything,” explained Rex when asked why he decided to write Free Lunch. “I didn’t know their situation, but it struck me that my story needed to be shared. I wanted other kids to know that it’s okay to be hungry. That they are not alone. And there is hope.”
Rex is a former book editor who now lives in Los Angeles with his partner. He enjoys hiking with friends and his dog, devouring books, and cooking.
Free Lunch is unsparing and harshly realistic. It is also frequently funny, and threaded with hope and moments of grace. Free Lunch is a welcome addition to the growing cannon of youth memoirs, and Rex’s powerful, lyrical storytelling shines a light on those living in the shadows.
FACTS ABOUT CHILDHOOD HUNGER:
- 12 million children in the United States live in food “insecure homes”
- 1 in 6 children in the United States lives with hunger
- Children who come from food insecure homes often experiences learning disabilities and other cognitive impairments
- Children who suffer from hunger often face emotional and social road blocks
PRAISE FOR FREE LUNCH:
★ “With candor and vivid detail, Ogle captures the experience of chronic poverty in the United States. …Ogle doesn’t shy away from the circumstances (he and his toddler stepbrother are sometimes left alone for days at a time), but there is no shortage of humor, human kindness, and kid hijinks. Though the story is an intense middle grade read, Ogle’s emotional honesty pays off in the form of complex characterization and a bold, compassionate thesis: “Maybe being poor broke her…. and she can’t get well as long as this is her life.” The book ends on a hopeful if precarious note that underscores the importance of dismantling the shame surrounding poverty. In a country where 43% of children live in low-income families, Ogle’s memoir is all too relatable.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review
★ “[Ogle’s] painful home life proffers little sanctuary thanks to his mom, who swings from occasional caregiver to violent tyrant at the slightest provocation, and his white stepdad, an abusive racist whose aggression outrivals that of Rex’s mom. Balancing the persistent flashes of brutality, Ogle magnificently includes sprouts of hope, whether it’s the beginnings of a friendship with a “weird” schoolmate, joyful moments with his younger brother, or lessons of perseverance from Abuela. These slivers of relative levity counteract the toxic relationship between young Rex, a boy prone to heated outbursts and suppressed feelings, and his mother, a fully three-dimensional character who’s viciously thrashing against the burden of poverty. It’s a fine balance carried by the author’s outstanding, gracious writing and a clear eye for the penetrating truth. A mighty portrait of poverty amid cruelty and optimism.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred