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Free Lunch
Cover of Free Lunch
Free Lunch
Winner of the 2020 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. Instead of giving him lunch money, Rex's mom has signed him up for free meals. As a poor kid in a wealthy school district, better-off kids crowd...
Winner of the 2020 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. Instead of giving him lunch money, Rex's mom has signed him up for free meals. As a poor kid in a wealthy school district, better-off kids crowd...
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  • Winner of the 2020 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award.

    Instead of giving him lunch money, Rex's mom has signed him up for free meals. As a poor kid in a wealthy school district, better-off kids crowd impatiently behind him as he tries to explain to the cashier that he's on the free meal program. The lunch lady is hard of hearing, so Rex has to shout.

    Free Lunch is the story of Rex's efforts to navigate his first semester of sixth grade—who to sit with, not being able to join the football team, Halloween in a handmade costume, classmates and a teacher who take one look at him and decide he's trouble—all while wearing secondhand clothes and being hungry. His mom and her boyfriend are out of work, and life at home is punctuated by outbursts of violence. Halfway through the semester, his family is evicted and ends up in government-subsidized housing in view of the school. Rex lingers at the end of last period every day until the buses have left, so no one will see where he lives.

    Unsparing and realistic, Free Lunch is a story of hardship threaded with hope and moments of grace. Rex's voice is compelling and authentic, and Free Lunch is a true, timely, and essential work that illuminates the lived experience of poverty in America.

About the Author-

  • Rex Ogle was born and raised mostly in Texas. He received the 2020 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award for his memoir Free Lunch. A former children's book editor in New York City, Rex now lives in Los Angeles with his partner.

Reviews-

  • Kirkus

    July 1, 2019
    Recounting his childhood experiences in sixth grade, Ogle's memoir chronicles the punishing consequences of poverty and violence on himself and his family. The start of middle school brings about unwanted changes in young Rex's life. His old friendships devolve as his school friends join the football team and slowly edge him out. His new English teacher discriminates against him due to his dark skin (Rex is biracial, with a white absentee dad and a Mexican mom) and secondhand clothes, both too large and too small. Seemingly worse, his mom enrolls him in the school's free-lunch program, much to his embarrassment. "Now everyone knows I'm nothing but trailer trash." His 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. (author's note, author Q&A, discussion guide, writing guide, resources) (Memoir. 9-12)

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 22, 2019
    With candor and vivid detail, Ogle’s debut, a memoir, captures the experience of chronic poverty in the United States. In addition to the usual middle school problems, Rex cringes every time he has to remind the cafeteria lady he’s on the free lunch program. At home, his unemployed mother and stepfather download their stress on him and each other, verbally and physically: “ definitely loves me more when she has money,” Rex says. “She can think straight. She remembers she cares about me.” 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. An author’s note, q&a, and discussion guide conclude. Ages 11–14.

  • School Library Journal

    October 7, 2019

    Gr 6-8-Heart-wrenching, timely, and beautifully written, this is a powerful and urgent work of autofiction. Telling his own story of growing up in Texas, Ogle looks back at starting middle school while navigating the crushing poverty and intermittent violence of his home life. It is especially humiliating to sixth-grade Rex that he is required to announce his free lunch status every day in the school cafeteria, wear secondhand clothes, and give excuses for not playing football when the truth is that there's no money for the uniform. At home, where he lives with his unemployed mother and her boyfriend, Rex is the one who cares for his baby brother, balances the checkbook, and cooks dinner. His mother, overwhelmed and hopeless, clearly loves Rex, but does not know how to care for her sensitive son. At school, Rex struggles to maintain friendships with boys who have joined the football team and to make new friends-until he meets Ethan, a classmate who encourages Rex to recognize that every family is complicated. He also has to contend with his English teacher, Mrs. Winstead, who does not miss an opportunity to make Rex feel bad about himself. Over time, and with the support of his loving Mexican grandmother, Rex grows into an empathetic boy who begins to recognize the hardships his mother faces and starts to look outward in ways not restricted by his immediate situation. VERDICT Ogle's story will inspire empathy for the experience of children living in poverty. Recommend this book to mature readers who are ready to grapple with the realities of the impacts of socioeconomic status.-Shelley Sommer, Inly School, Scituate, MA

    Copyright 2019 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    August 1, 2019
    Grades 6-8 Middle school can be daunting, even under ideal conditions. But if, like Rex, you are also dealing with a father who abandoned you, a mother and her boyfriend who beat you, food and housing insecurity, and the stigma of free lunch, the results can be overwhelming. Ogle's memoir details the first semester of sixth grade, where his grade-school friends desert him for football; some teachers prejudge him because he is poor and Hispanic; and the elderly, deaf lunch lady never remembers his name, forcing him to loudly announce his situation daily. Eventually, he meets fellow outsider Ethan, who introduces him to the world of comics and true friendship. Ogle's engrossing narrative is rich in lived experience, offering a window into the ways that poverty can lead to domestic violence and feelings of unworthiness. The abuse Rex and his mother suffer will disturb many; too many others will recognize Rex's circumstances as their own. Appended with an author's note, Q&A, and social services resources, this is an important and ultimately hopeful memoir.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

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