Free Lunch
Free Lunch is the story of Rex Ogle’s first semester in sixth grade. Rex and his baby brother often went hungry, wore secondhand clothes, and were short of school supplies, and Rex was on his school’s free lunch program. 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 a 6th-grade kid, Free Lunch is a remarkable debut by a gifted storyteller.

Free Lunch Details

TitleFree Lunch
Author
ReleaseSep 10th, 2019
PublisherNorton Young Readers
ISBN-139781324003601
Rating
GenreChildrens, Middle Grade, Nonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Social Issues, Poverty, Biography

Free Lunch Review

  • Emily
    January 1, 1970
    When I was five, my family went to dinner at a sit-down restaurant (a rare thing for us) and my parents made an announcement. My mom was pregnant. My sisters and I were going to have a baby brother. I could've learned I was going to get a new Barbie each day for the rest of my life and I wouldn't have been as excited. This was the best news in the world, right? My oldest sister was not so happy. In that cutting way teen girls have, her immediate response was a sneer: "Does that mean we're going When I was five, my family went to dinner at a sit-down restaurant (a rare thing for us) and my parents made an announcement. My mom was pregnant. My sisters and I were going to have a baby brother. I could've learned I was going to get a new Barbie each day for the rest of my life and I wouldn't have been as excited. This was the best news in the world, right? My oldest sister was not so happy. In that cutting way teen girls have, her immediate response was a sneer: "Does that mean we're going to have to go back on food stamps?" I didn't know what food stamps were then, but I certainly could tell by her tone they were something awful. I didn't even know we were poor, but some creeping feeling began at that moment, when our little corner of the restaurant was hot with silent anger, and then never let go. When my dad died a few months later, I would learn what it really meant to be to be poor.This, my earliest memory of poverty, is vivid 30-plus years later, and it comes at me like a small fist while reading Free Lunch. It's the sort of acutely painful past Ogle relentlessly mines in his novelistic memoir, told through the compelling voice of his younger, most vulnerable self. The ill-fitting secondhand clothes, the embarrassment of being on the free lunch roster on the cafeteria line, and, of course, the food stamps. I'm surprised to see it all laid out so plainly and honestly, without a touch of romanticism, in a children's book. While the book was a page turner for me, I can't imagine most kids will pick it up on a whim, or stick with it if they do. It will take hand-selling--the right grownup introducing it to the right kid at the right time. It's a tough read--especially in its unflinching portrayal of domestic violence--though hopefully an enlightening one for some young readers and a validating one for others. What Ogle truly excels at is illustrating just how inextricably bound poverty is with shame, fear, and, especially, anger. Highly recommended.
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  • Autumn
    January 1, 1970
    Anybody who knows me personally will understand that when I say 'this book understands and specifically addresses what Stephen King means to poor kids with excellent reading comprehension", that means I will stan it for life. Other than that tho, Rex Ogle is a hero for really sharing what it felt like for him in 6th grade. His anger, his sadness, his shame, and his strength in the face of what seemed like a totally uncaring world. Rex is angry with God, and you can't really blame him. I am Anybody who knows me personally will understand that when I say 'this book understands and specifically addresses what Stephen King means to poor kids with excellent reading comprehension", that means I will stan it for life. Other than that tho, Rex Ogle is a hero for really sharing what it felt like for him in 6th grade. His anger, his sadness, his shame, and his strength in the face of what seemed like a totally uncaring world. Rex is angry with God, and you can't really blame him. I am especially touched by the exquisite details present, and the stuff nobody talks about that everybody knows about. The choking game is present in detail, folks. (and duly rejected by our hero, thank goodness). Also, the ending is realistic. Rex begins to realize he can only control his response to his circumstances, he has (view spoiler)[ one weird friend (hide spoiler)] and he has the best possible Christmas for poor kids in the late 80s. Librarians, leave this book lying around face out very casually. Buy many copies. Replace often. For the love of pete, don't hand it to any kids who you know need it. They'll find it. Misshelve one over by the Stephen King.
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  • Anna
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book in exchange for an honest review.This book deals with Rex Ogle's childhood (specifically the first half of 6th grade - the start of middle school) and his shame of being on the free lunch program. In the author notes at the end, he mentions that he wanted to write this book because he doesn't remember seeing books like this growing up, how alone he felt because he didn't know that other people were dealing with the same problems, carrying the same shame. There's a stigma I received this book in exchange for an honest review.This book deals with Rex Ogle's childhood (specifically the first half of 6th grade - the start of middle school) and his shame of being on the free lunch program. In the author notes at the end, he mentions that he wanted to write this book because he doesn't remember seeing books like this growing up, how alone he felt because he didn't know that other people were dealing with the same problems, carrying the same shame. There's a stigma about being poor but "no child should feel like they are worth less because of the situation they were born into". He did a decent job tackling the subject and this book definitely helps shine a light on the psyche of the children who are on the free lunch program.In May of this year a school district in Rhode Island decided to tackle their school lunch debt issue by giving unpaid bills only one option for their lunches - sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches. Obviously public pressure and a sizeable donation from Chobani forced the district to reverse that decision. The thing is, this is only the most recent (that got national attention) in a long line of lunch shaming of students. Here's an article about an elementary school in Alabama stamping kids that were in lunch debt. Here's an article about a school in Utah where the kids lunches were thrown out in front of everyone at the checkout because they had an outstanding balance. This is an article that is about lunch shaming in general. Every time some bureaucrat talks about the importance of the budget and district finances, they're forgetting that there are actual consequences to their decisions. The shaming that leads to ostracizing and bullying; or the impact of low nutritious value foods on children. And that's not even talking about how those things impact a child emotionally and psychologically and how that sticks with them. I think it's great that this book brings the conversation out into the open because it doesn't shy away from how Rex felt being on the program or how he desperately tried to hide it from people. The book also deals with the emotional and physical abuse that Rex experienced growing up. Both his mother and her boyfriend were volatile and violent and snapped at a moments notice. Rex doesn't sugarcoat any of it, nor does he try to "adult" his feelings. As an adult reader, you know that the parents are clearly in the wrong, but 6th grade Rex is going to feel that he's in the wrong for daring to ask for pens and pencils for school, 6th grade Rex is going to think he deserves the black eyes, 6th grade Rex is going to hear the ridiculously abuse things that's being hurled at him and internalize it. As much as you want there to be a "realization" within the book, it's clearly unrealistic - heart breakingly so. I know this is autobiographical, and also that he wanted to end it on a more positive note where there is more stability in their lives and things are looking up. But the thing is, it's almost sad knowing that the happiness will be short lived because nothing about his mother or her boyfriend at a deeper level has changed.
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  • Edward Sullivan
    January 1, 1970
    In this emotionally visceral, brutally honest memoir, Rex Ogle tells the story of his first semester in sixth grade. He and his baby brother often went hungry, wore secondhand clothes, and were short of school supplies. His mother is cruel and abusive, and his stepfather violently abusive to his mother. Humiliated, Rex is desperate to keep secret from his schoolmates that he is on the free lunch program and living in government subsidized housing. A harsh, painfully realistic look at poverty In this emotionally visceral, brutally honest memoir, Rex Ogle tells the story of his first semester in sixth grade. He and his baby brother often went hungry, wore secondhand clothes, and were short of school supplies. His mother is cruel and abusive, and his stepfather violently abusive to his mother. Humiliated, Rex is desperate to keep secret from his schoolmates that he is on the free lunch program and living in government subsidized housing. A harsh, painfully realistic look at poverty through the eyes of a child with some welcome reprieves of compassion and optimism. A exceptionally crafted story worthy of a wide audience.
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  • Anna
    January 1, 1970
    It seems that there's been an increase in the middle-grade memoir market but maybe that's just me. Rex Ogle's no-holds-barred book about poverty, hunger, child abuse, and domestic violence in America is a gripping read. If every child doesn't read it—every teacher and politician should.
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  • Erika
    January 1, 1970
    This is exceptionally well written; it is funny, thought-provoking, and completely heartbreaking. Why then did I give it 2 stars...while contemplating giving it 1? It gets an extra point for great writing. Otherwise, the sheer fact that at the end the author does not talk about if your parents are abusing you that is NOT okay. They beat him, abandoned him and his brother for days alone (the first time when he was 9 and his brother was 2) with no phone and not enough food. THIS IS ABUSE AND NOT This is exceptionally well written; it is funny, thought-provoking, and completely heartbreaking. Why then did I give it 2 stars...while contemplating giving it 1? It gets an extra point for great writing. Otherwise, the sheer fact that at the end the author does not talk about if your parents are abusing you that is NOT okay. They beat him, abandoned him and his brother for days alone (the first time when he was 9 and his brother was 2) with no phone and not enough food. THIS IS ABUSE AND NOT OKAY!!! The back of the book should of included information about what to do if you find yourself or friends in a similar situations not some sweetly written chapter about how his life got so much better when he realized that he was the problem. Once he just internalizes the abuse and becomes the perfect son the abuse stopped (as it coincided with both parents finally being employed at the same time). Like I said the writing was great but the end message is such rubbish that I just feel bad for Rex Ogle and hope that he knows he did not do anything to deserve the abuse from his parents or teachers or anyone. I'm sorry that was your life but please don't glorify it and sell it like it's a teachable moment to kids on how to be a better child. If you read this book and you're going through the same things with your parents, grandparents, caregivers then here are some child abuse hotlines:In the U.S. or Canada: Call Childhelp at 1-800-422-4453 or visit Child Welfare Information Gateway>UK: Call NSPCC Childline at 0800 1111Australia: Visit CAPS for a hotline in your stateNew Zealand: Call Kidsline at 0800 54 37 54Other international helplines: Visit Child Helpline International
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  • DaNae
    January 1, 1970
    Draining and brutal. In a year of sad stories this felt more readable, more genuine, and more hopeful than most of the fiction I've come across. I think because it is Ogle own story, even though he was victimized by his family's poverty, both physically and psychologically, he never rolled-over and gave-in or basked in the unfairness of it all. Sometimes he raged at it. Ultimately he saw beyond it and was able to look outside of just how it effected him. I'm not sure I would hand this to a child Draining and brutal. In a year of sad stories this felt more readable, more genuine, and more hopeful than most of the fiction I've come across. I think because it is Ogle own story, even though he was victimized by his family's poverty, both physically and psychologically, he never rolled-over and gave-in or basked in the unfairness of it all. Sometimes he raged at it. Ultimately he saw beyond it and was able to look outside of just how it effected him. I'm not sure I would hand this to a child in poverty but it is important 'windows' book as some of my very well-off students have let me know.
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  • Cat
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you Rex Ogle for writing so many people's story. Though my life wasn't quite as awful, I was glad to grow up and get away from it and raise my own family better. I feel for what he experienced both from my own experience and from what I witnessed. Grown ups were not trust worthy or good in my young self's opinion. Kids were vulnerable enough to be picked on as they were on hand. Parents believed other adults, especially teachers and anyone perceived as "betters" or authority figures, kids Thank you Rex Ogle for writing so many people's story. Though my life wasn't quite as awful, I was glad to grow up and get away from it and raise my own family better. I feel for what he experienced both from my own experience and from what I witnessed. Grown ups were not trust worthy or good in my young self's opinion. Kids were vulnerable enough to be picked on as they were on hand. Parents believed other adults, especially teachers and anyone perceived as "betters" or authority figures, kids were always on the losing end and liable to be beaten. I swear our teachers relished beating us. A lot of people in my age group remember being abused by adults as kids and being asked "Who's going to believe you? You're just a kid and kids lie." I think most children have a pretty rough time of it. Too bad we can't pick our parents or the society we live in.Kudos on the book Rex Ogle.I received a Kindle arc from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.
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  • Viral
    January 1, 1970
    Thanks to W.W. Norton for the ARC at BEA 2019!This book is Rex Ogle's real story of growing up in poverty and trying to survive in a school and social environment where he feels the constant pressure of food insecurity, poverty, lack of stable housing, and watches his parents buckle and abuse each other and him due to the unending stress of being impoverished. A constant point in the book is Ogle's shame when he has to repeatedly tell the lunch counter cashiers that he is on the Free Lunch Thanks to W.W. Norton for the ARC at BEA 2019!This book is Rex Ogle's real story of growing up in poverty and trying to survive in a school and social environment where he feels the constant pressure of food insecurity, poverty, lack of stable housing, and watches his parents buckle and abuse each other and him due to the unending stress of being impoverished. A constant point in the book is Ogle's shame when he has to repeatedly tell the lunch counter cashiers that he is on the Free Lunch program. It's a powerful indictment of the shame and suffering that we allow people to suffer every day in this country. A must read. Highly recommend.
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  • MaryBrigid Turner
    January 1, 1970
    A wonderful, thought provoking glimpse into what it means to be poor in America.
  • Laura Gardner
    January 1, 1970
    Book talking this nonfiction book is going to be SO EASY. I am eager to see student reactions to this honest portrayal of a child growing up impoverished....The most powerful part of FREE LUNCH is the way Ogle shows how poverty makes everything worse and how difficult it is to dig out of debt. The abuse, bullying, hunger and humiliation Ogle endures is intense, but a realistic portrayal of the difficulties many children in America face. ...“Sometimes, I hate my mom so much. Like when she’s Book talking this nonfiction book is going to be SO EASY. I am eager to see student reactions to this honest portrayal of a child growing up impoverished....The most powerful part of FREE LUNCH is the way Ogle shows how poverty makes everything worse and how difficult it is to dig out of debt. The abuse, bullying, hunger and humiliation Ogle endures is intense, but a realistic portrayal of the difficulties many children in America face. ...“Sometimes, I hate my mom so much. Like when she’s hitting me. Or just being really cruel. But when she cries? I can’t. I just can’t hate her ‘cause it’s like she’s hurting so bad I don’t understand.”...Grades 6+. 5🌟
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  • Lel Budge
    January 1, 1970
    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 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.
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  • Jon Garcia
    January 1, 1970
    This book was devastating. It 110% shows what it's like growing up poor, with abusive parents, and feeling like no one cares. This book, while it's a true depiction and I agree that kids need to have a vision of their life to cling to in times of need, is almost too real and depressing for Juvenile Non-Fiction, where it is shelved at your local library.The first day of school, he goes to school with a black eye his mother gave him. His friends abandon him after they join the football team (that This book was devastating. It 110% shows what it's like growing up poor, with abusive parents, and feeling like no one cares. This book, while it's a true depiction and I agree that kids need to have a vision of their life to cling to in times of need, is almost too real and depressing for Juvenile Non-Fiction, where it is shelved at your local library.The first day of school, he goes to school with a black eye his mother gave him. His friends abandon him after they join the football team (that he was almost allowed to join until stepdad beat up his mom). He is saved by grandma on thanksgiving with new clothes and food, only to have his crazy mother throw it all out while they were unaware. The kids even had to give back the new clothes. This turned my stomach. It made me realize that my childhood (parental drug use, abuse (spousal), and neglect) was bad, it wasn't this bad. My parents never would have let me go to bed hungry if they could have helped it, nor would they have turned away charity from their parents (and we did get it quite a few times). It does realistically show the downward spiral that families go into when joblessness becomes an everyday reality for a parent. It shows the resentfulness the working parent goes through. BUT something that isn't normal is just how "off" this mother acted. I, personally, am bipolar. I think his mother was too. She had her highs where she cleaned obsessively, loved stepdad and little son obsessively, and where she'd go out digging for discounts, job hunting, etc. But she had LOW LOWs too where she'd cry like someone died, she'd hide, she'd blame others. She was also always ANGRY. And while I do understand, anger is a thing with people in poverty (I lived that too, remember?), this woman's anger was very extra. She was beyond angry, and at her eldest son. The hate she had for him was unreal. I was unsure of how this book was going to end. I wanted mama to find out she had a problem. I wanted mama to kick out bad stepdad. I wanted grandma to save the kids (but like my grandparents, she left them in the situation). This book ended fast and almost unsatisfyingly. It ended with mama getting a job and her being very happy and the family getting to eat at the buffet where she was recently employed. I was waiting on the other shoe to drop when I turned the next to last page. But instead, it was more "happily ever afters." I know that his life wasn't perfect after that (I read his afterword, etc). But still... I don't really know how to feel about the book as a whole. It put me back into a bad place, but it also made me appreciative that my life wasn't worse. It made me feel horrible for the kids that went through worse. I cried when horrible things happened to the eldest. Turned pages in fear, praying nothing worse was going to happen.... Then it's over. *snaps fingers* Just like that. I'm just left hanging and I'm at a "what just happened" point. While the story was good, the timeline we're dropped into is seamless, that's just it. We're dropped into one set point in time, no real buildup, and no real letdown. It's a moment in time that we live with the eldest boy and his turmoil. I think things could have been done better, but frankly, it was still "good (quotes b/c this story is horrible, but it was done decently)" I'm so impressed that this child survived and is now a successful adult. He truly beat odds that were stacked against him so hard. Good job. Good job. I, too, am working, functional adult. But, unlike the author, I am living in poverty still. It's a hard cycle to get out of. Many of us die trying.
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  • Corinne Anderson
    January 1, 1970
    This was a great novel. It puts childhood poverty into a realistic perspective from the child suffering. Photographs and statistics only so much as the media bombards the populace with thousands of social issues at a time. To sit and read one person’s story, as a child, is a totally different experience. I encourage young readers to pick up this book, and teachers to consider adding this book to their curriculum. It provides, 1) the realization that you are not alone if you are a child in This was a great novel. It puts childhood poverty into a realistic perspective from the child suffering. Photographs and statistics only so much as the media bombards the populace with thousands of social issues at a time. To sit and read one person’s story, as a child, is a totally different experience. I encourage young readers to pick up this book, and teachers to consider adding this book to their curriculum. It provides, 1) the realization that you are not alone if you are a child in poverty, 2) asks that you withhold judgment until you know someone regardless of economic status, 3) and brings awareness to students that you never know what situation someone has outside of school.This brought back many memories, both good and bad, and reminds me to be thankful for what I have. Highly recommend.
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  • Kristen
    January 1, 1970
    Netgalley provided me a DRC of this book in exchange for an honest review.This was a tough read. It's a true account, and a brutally honest look at poverty, domestic abuse, and what happens when kids have to take care of themselves. Here Ogle recounts his 6th grade year--a year full of turmoil. His mom and boyfriend are struggling to find jobs, and their frustration and anger usually turns into physical abuse--both towards each other and towards Rex. He's in charge of caring for his toddler Netgalley provided me a DRC of this book in exchange for an honest review.This was a tough read. It's a true account, and a brutally honest look at poverty, domestic abuse, and what happens when kids have to take care of themselves. Here Ogle recounts his 6th grade year--a year full of turmoil. His mom and boyfriend are struggling to find jobs, and their frustration and anger usually turns into physical abuse--both towards each other and towards Rex. He's in charge of caring for his toddler brother, even when the adults are gone for days at a time. School is his refuge, but there he deals with feeling left out and feeling ashamed of his family's poverty.It's particularly hard reading this as a teacher, because Rex's story is the story of many of my own students.
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  • Debbie Tanner
    January 1, 1970
    This is a bigraphical story about a boy growing up in poverty. The story tells about being hungry, wearing second hand clothes and wishing,wishing ,wishing for the kinds of things other kids take for granted. It also talks about being really angry sometimes about circumstances beyond his control. I really liked the story and the sharing of Rex's experience, but the ending left me a little cold.
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  • Linda Williams Jackson
    January 1, 1970
    Amazing This book was an emotional and life-changing read for me. Should be required reading for middle school kids and their parents.
  • Alicia
    January 1, 1970
    Every teacher needs to read this and so many of my high school students will get behind this book whether it's a window, mirror, or sliding glass door because it's got all of the heart and the substance of so many conversations to have with students-- trauma, abuse, parenthood versus childhood, student lunches, poverty, prejudice, housing, just to name a few. Ogle in a very short amount of time absolutely kicks readers in the gut by being straightforward and as he mentions in the author's note, Every teacher needs to read this and so many of my high school students will get behind this book whether it's a window, mirror, or sliding glass door because it's got all of the heart and the substance of so many conversations to have with students-- trauma, abuse, parenthood versus childhood, student lunches, poverty, prejudice, housing, just to name a few. Ogle in a very short amount of time absolutely kicks readers in the gut by being straightforward and as he mentions in the author's note, as an adult who survived, we all need hope to get over the hurdle that is middle school and sometimes high school. For Ogle, it was a physically and emotionally abusive mother and stepfather where he was the parent. Neither had a good education, so Ogle did adult things like preparing meals, watching the younger brother, emotionally supporting his mother while simultaneously stressing about everything a middle schooler does- what people think of them. The constant comparisons, the navigating the lunch room, and finding a voice to argue back against injustice. It's brevity is its power. This was his story that mirrors many other stories and we need (as an educator it spoke to me specifically) to pay more attention to adverse childhood experiences that lead to frustration, sleep deprivation, malnutrition, and stress because they're worried about shelter insecurities, food insecurities, family fighting, etc. Poignant and necessary.
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  • Erin
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this book. This is a true story of Rex Ogle's 6th grade year. It is a memoir about what it was like to start middle school as a boy growing up in poverty in an abusive household in America in the 1980s. The author was able to capture the complexities of emotion he felt being trapped in his situation. What is most striking about this story is its honesty in acknowledging the blend of anger, guilt, hatred, empathy, and love Rex felt for his mother, who is abusive and seems to be struggling I loved this book. This is a true story of Rex Ogle's 6th grade year. It is a memoir about what it was like to start middle school as a boy growing up in poverty in an abusive household in America in the 1980s. The author was able to capture the complexities of emotion he felt being trapped in his situation. What is most striking about this story is its honesty in acknowledging the blend of anger, guilt, hatred, empathy, and love Rex felt for his mother, who is abusive and seems to be struggling with mental illness. Despite being only 10 or 11 years old, he was the most mature, wise and caring person in his family, taking care of his toddler brother and ultimately offering his mother emotional support when her actions would have taught most children to do nothing but lash out in anger. My hope its that this memoir will help kids see themselves. Those who are growing up in poverty and struggling with abusive families, trying to manage the depression and anxiety that come with these traumas will read this memoir and recognize themselves and their own struggles in Rex's story. The only thing that bothered me while reading the book was that there were a few moments in the book where Rex is trying to find friendships with other boys in his grade and makes comments about not wanting to seem gay. I know that because of the culture we live in, this is a fear of almost every adolescent boy, because being gay or "girly" is the worst crime against the masculine ideal in our culture. I definitely didn't get the feeling while reading the book that Rex agreed with this sentiment, rather that he wanted to avoid being targeted by alpha male bullies. Still, I wish he would have explored this a little deeper so that kids who are gay don't think that there is anything wrong with who they are, but that instead, there is something wrong with this way of thinking. I don't know that as a 6th grader he had the capacity to articulate this, but as an adult retelling the story, I wish he would have tried. The most important and powerful story here, though, is how painful it is to grow up in this country not knowing where your next meal may come from and trying to hide the embarrassment of living in poverty and all of the trauma that comes with it. There is a touching moment in the book where Rex is able to connect with his mother in a rare moment when she puts her tough armor down and she says to him, "It's really hard. Being poor in this country is like--like starving at an all-you-can-eat-buffet. You can see all of this food piled high, but you can't have any of it. It's just out of reach. Like everything else. Jobs. Houses. The things you see in TV commercials. It's all a pipe dream for people like us. It's all window-shopping. The grocery stores, the malls, the car lots, everywhere. It's all luxury, and people don't realize how lucky they are if they can afford any of it. We know, because we can't have any of it. No matter how hard we work, we'll never have money like the people at the top. We work just as hard as they do. Harder sometimes. But we'll never make the money they make. The system is broke. It's just--it's not fair." Thirty years later in America, nothing has changed. As a public school teacher, I know that every year in my class I have kids who are going through similar struggles as Rex. I hope they will find this book, and if nothing else, know that they are not alone.
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  • Sandy Brehl
    January 1, 1970
    I began reading this as a round one panelist in the middle grade nonfiction category for Cybils Awards for 2019. I was not far into it before I had to break my personal rules to turn to back matter, since it reads so much like an impressive fictional novel. The author's name is the same as that of the first-person, present tense narrator, but even so, I doubted that a person's life could possibly unfold, and be retold, with such a potent and dramatic narrative. Immediately following the I began reading this as a round one panelist in the middle grade nonfiction category for Cybils Awards for 2019. I was not far into it before I had to break my personal rules to turn to back matter, since it reads so much like an impressive fictional novel. The author's name is the same as that of the first-person, present tense narrator, but even so, I doubted that a person's life could possibly unfold, and be retold, with such a potent and dramatic narrative. Immediately following the narrative text, Ogle speaks to the reader directly (with his familiar adolescent voice), including this: "...everything that happened to me in this book happened to me in real life."The dedication is: "This book is for every kid, whether they pay for their lunch or not."Rex's life as he enters middle school includes pain, hunger, suffering, anger, and fear. It also includes responsibility, academic success, some occasional reassurances of worth and love, to which he clings. This title somehow missed my fairly broad radar screen for new releases, and I am so grateful to Amanda Snow for nominating this title in this category. I think all readers (kids, adults, teachers, parents) will find it as un-put-down-able as I did. It opens essential discussions and explorations of the effect of poverty on individual and family lives, without becoming sa ob story or pity party. The impact of poverty plays out in minutia and in limestones, in the lives of toddlers, teens and adults. Ogle reveals truely unthinkable circumstances with gritty and visceral impact but makes them engaging and personal ones, regardless of a reader's circumstances. This title makes a great pairing with the graphic autobiography of Jarrett Krosoczka, HEY, KIDDO! from 2018. The range and authenticity of their emotional journeys are distinctly individual and personal, yet the specifics are less important than the internal reactions and responses. Adolesence is a roller coaster of emotions, even in the best of circumstances, and Ogle allows readers who may be viewed as privileged by others to find their own struggles on the page as well. This is a book I plan to recommend through the rest of this year and in every year ahead. I'm grateful to Ogle for channeling his middle grade voice and views to purely and powerfully. This is a book that can (and will) save lives.
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  • Jennybeast
    January 1, 1970
    I honor Rex Ogle for sharing this difficult story, and for surviving his childhood. It's not an uncommon story, but he shares it very well, and I particularly appreciated his struggles with emotion, with recognizing and dealing with his rage. It's a challenging book -- not only is the subject matter hard -- abuse, poverty, hunger, humiliation -- but Rex is a very likable person, so it in incredibly hard to see his suffering. I kept wanting his Abuela or his bio-Father to step in and change I honor Rex Ogle for sharing this difficult story, and for surviving his childhood. It's not an uncommon story, but he shares it very well, and I particularly appreciated his struggles with emotion, with recognizing and dealing with his rage. It's a challenging book -- not only is the subject matter hard -- abuse, poverty, hunger, humiliation -- but Rex is a very likable person, so it in incredibly hard to see his suffering. I kept wanting his Abuela or his bio-Father to step in and change things. I kept wanting there to be a real safety net that helps him and Ford, but that is not how we live in this country. I think he did an amazing job portraying the point of view of his sixth grade self -- the internalizing of trauma, the ups and downs of being a kid and without power, his hyper awareness of prejudice and isolation, his struggles with whether or not to conform to jerk behavior in order to please his friends.Things that I am having a hard time with:A lot of the reviews comment on his mother's mental illness -- is she mentally ill? I think it is ambiguous, and I appreciate that. It allows for the spectrum of undiagnosed behaviors and doesn't attempt to define mental illness. He does call out her stress, rage at poverty, her abusive behavior and the frequent abuse dealt out to her, her acute humiliation at accepting "charity" and her delight in forcing corporations to give her free things. There is a short mention of his sister dying that I think implies an entire world of more complicated situations. I appreciate that he doesn't ever excuse her behavior, but he does attempt to understand what triggers her. His empathy is vast and moving. I think it's fascinating that I have yet to see a review that characterizes his step-father's abuse as mental illness, despite the fact that is it equally unpredictable, violent, and triggered by many of the same things that cause his mother to "go crazy".I understand the comments that that the ending is a little too mature, a little too neat -- but who am I to tell someone what did or did not happen in their lives? And I think the impulse to show hope is not a bad thing, especially when it is combined with a road map for enduring until adulthood. That first venture into Middle school is a time in which people grapple with their own moralities, and Rex is certainly an intelligent and thoughtful kid -- he's on a fast track to maturity, whether he likes it or not. It also feels like the family's moment of stability is destined to be short-lived, but that he is determined to enjoy while he can, and that makes sense to me. Things are rarely so black and white that there are no good moments to remember. Let him have those good times as well as the boatload of bad.I like that this is short (appealing to kids), fearless, deeply honest. I think the messages are great, and that there is a lot to unpack and talk about here, both on a social justice level and as a way for readers to feel connection. I hope to see more work from this author soon.
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  • Arielfranchakyahoo.com
    January 1, 1970
    It’s not an easy book to read, but it is a extremely important one. I couldn’t put FREE LUNCH down, and I’m not sure if it was because I was so engrossed in the story, or if I just wanted to see the light at the end of the darkness. Perhaps both. FREE LUNCH, by Rex Ogle, is a deeply moving and heart wrenching memoir of a 12 year old boy trying to survive. Trying to survive with a physically abusive mother and her physically abusive boyfriend. Trying to survive when there is barely food to eat. It’s not an easy book to read, but it is a extremely important one. I couldn’t put FREE LUNCH down, and I’m not sure if it was because I was so engrossed in the story, or if I just wanted to see the light at the end of the darkness. Perhaps both. FREE LUNCH, by Rex Ogle, is a deeply moving and heart wrenching memoir of a 12 year old boy trying to survive. Trying to survive with a physically abusive mother and her physically abusive boyfriend. Trying to survive when there is barely food to eat. Suffering the embarrassment of living in poverty and dreading the cafeteria line because the only way to eat is to say the dreaded words, “Free Lunch Program.”Despite the difficult issues of poverty and physical abuse, FREE LUNCH offers moments of levity and hope. There are times (few and far between) that Rex’s dysfunctional family experiences a hint of joy or a laughter. Rex is an inspiration in the way that he cares for his younger brother, Ford. He takes on grownup responsibilities such as cooking and balancing the checkbook. Rex also enjoys a true friendship and the unconditional love of his grandmother. FREE LUNCH is an important book that will undoubtedly speak to the far too many children living in poverty, hunger and abuse. It is also a necessary book to include in any middle grade or high school classroom or library. Students and teachers who did not have to endure such devastating hardships need this book to understand and empathize with children like Rex. And children like Rex need to know they are not alone. I only wish Rex spoke up or reached out for help. But perhaps this book will give others the courage to do so. I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book for review purposes.
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  • Carli
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you to @netgalley and @w.w.norton for the advance Kindle copy of this book. All opinions are my own.•/5. Whew, this one was tough to read. The author tells the story of his sixth grade year, when his family hit rock bottom financially and he qualified for free lunch at school. He was humiliated as he told the lunch cashiers to look his name up in the free lunch binder. Meanwhile, his mother spins even more out of control than before, is beaten by her boyfriend, and refuses help from Rex’s Thank you to @netgalley and @w.w.norton for the advance Kindle copy of this book. All opinions are my own.•⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5. Whew, this one was tough to read. The author tells the story of his sixth grade year, when his family hit rock bottom financially and he qualified for free lunch at school. He was humiliated as he told the lunch cashiers to look his name up in the free lunch binder. Meanwhile, his mother spins even more out of control than before, is beaten by her boyfriend, and refuses help from Rex’s abuela. This is an important book for school libraries; kids will either identify with it, and hopefully those who do not will build empathy because of it. Recommended for grades 6+, and it is out 9/10/19.
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  • Lizanne Johnson
    January 1, 1970
    This narrative nonfiction book is challenging and disturbing. To know the experiences that Rex Ogke lived through is a tribute to his ability to survive. I couldn't help thinking about the students in my Title I middle school and the traumatic experiences that they are living through. Ogle's coming of age ended hopefully. The important message about poverty in our country and its effect on our youth makes me want to know more about how we can fight this battle and win. Thanks to NetGalley and This narrative nonfiction book is challenging and disturbing. To know the experiences that Rex Ogke lived through is a tribute to his ability to survive. I couldn't help thinking about the students in my Title I middle school and the traumatic experiences that they are living through. Ogle's coming of age ended hopefully. The important message about poverty in our country and its effect on our youth makes me want to know more about how we can fight this battle and win. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Katrina Eddy
    January 1, 1970
    Free Lunch is a memoir about growing up in poverty. Rex is embarrassed that he has to get free lunch. His family has been struggling for a long time and he has seen the stress and despair that accompanies that. He has also had to make sacrifices and he doesn’t have the same opportunity that his classmates have. The stress brings out the worst in his parents and their anger causes them to be violent towards each other, sometimes even Rex. You really felt for the characters. This story was written Free Lunch is a memoir about growing up in poverty. Rex is embarrassed that he has to get free lunch. His family has been struggling for a long time and he has seen the stress and despair that accompanies that. He has also had to make sacrifices and he doesn’t have the same opportunity that his classmates have. The stress brings out the worst in his parents and their anger causes them to be violent towards each other, sometimes even Rex. You really felt for the characters. This story was written with so much heart.
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  • TheRealAndee Oehm
    January 1, 1970
    As a mom, this was difficult to stomach, but important to see. These realities are often ignored or dismissed. Rex has a great voice that definitely captures the tribulations of middle school paired with poverty.
  • R.K. Cowles
    January 1, 1970
    3 3/4 stars. A giveaway from goodreads. Enjoyable quick read to an extent.
  • Valerie McEnroe
    January 1, 1970
    Oh my goodness. Talk about a book that cuts to the core. This is a memoir about 5 months in Rex Ogle's life. It is a remarkably detailed account of what it was like for him to carry the burdens placed on him, a 6th grader, by his poor, dysfunctional parents. At first I was a little put off, but once I realized he was writing his own true, personal, history, my heart just ached for him and all the children whose childhoods are ruined by poverty.Rex was a creative, smart, reflective boy of the Oh my goodness. Talk about a book that cuts to the core. This is a memoir about 5 months in Rex Ogle's life. It is a remarkably detailed account of what it was like for him to carry the burdens placed on him, a 6th grader, by his poor, dysfunctional parents. At first I was a little put off, but once I realized he was writing his own true, personal, history, my heart just ached for him and all the children whose childhoods are ruined by poverty.Rex was a creative, smart, reflective boy of the 80s. When he was five, his parents divorced and he remained with his Latino mother. She was anything but a good mother. She routinely berated him, abused him, and rarely showed any affection. She was the classic irresponsible, disrespectful mother. She would shout at people in stores, feed her kids mainly fast food, and always accuse people of judging her. She had a second son with another deadbeat guy who also had no self-control. He would lose his temper and take it out physically on both Rex and his mother. There are many examples of poor and neglectful parenting. One incident that stuck out for me was the time Rex had to care for his toddler brother for 4 days while his mom and boyfriend left town. They belted him hard when they returned and found out he and his brother left the apartment to get ice cream. The irony of who really showed poor judgement is astounding. Another incident was when his abuela came for a visit bringing lots of food and gifts. His mother went into a jealous rage destroying all the food, even though they needed it. Rex always lamented that he, as a kid, had no power over his life. That is so true, and sad, for kids in rough situations.Living his life was so exhausting that Rex actually looked forward to school. Despite his embarrassment at having to ask for free lunches, the loneliness of not belonging to a group, and a teacher's condescension, it was the only time he could be a kid. Once he got home he had to put on his grown-up pants, since his mom certainly didn't wear any. What amazes me is that Rex grew up to be a well adjusted adult, despite not having good role models. This book is testament. He was a smart kid, always reflecting on right and wrong. Throughout his story, you see the inner conflict pulling him in both directions, sometimes hateful and other times apologetic. The hate is clearly justified, but Rex didn't let it get the better of him. Somewhere along the line, maybe from one of his well-off, nerdy friends, he learned that lots of people are living with challenges. If you can just be patient, your life will eventually be yours, and you can write a new story. This book is raw for juvenile fiction. I honestly, wouldn't give it to anyone under 6th grade unless they are already intimately familiar with this kind of neglect. It could be upsetting for younger kids who haven't experienced such tragedy. There are some issues with language (pissed, ass, pussy), slurs (homo, spic), and references to a Halloween costume looking like a condom. It's all part of Rex's history. If omitted, it sanitizes his childhood and therefore compromises the story. Just be aware of who you are handing the book to. A must for grade 8 and up.
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  • Abby Johnson
    January 1, 1970
    What a powerful and sobering book, especially reading this in the days leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas when I am super aware of the privilege that my family and I enjoy. Rex Ogle's piercing memoir of the beginning of his sixth grade year when his family was food unstable and he endured physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his mother and stepfather is a hard read, but an important one. There are kids who need this book, who need to know that they're not alone, even if they don't What a powerful and sobering book, especially reading this in the days leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas when I am super aware of the privilege that my family and I enjoy. Rex Ogle's piercing memoir of the beginning of his sixth grade year when his family was food unstable and he endured physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his mother and stepfather is a hard read, but an important one. There are kids who need this book, who need to know that they're not alone, even if they don't know anyone else at their school who's on the free lunch program. It's a must read for educators and those who work with children because you may not be aware of what some of those kids are going through. Highly recommended for school and library shelves serving middle schoolers and high schoolers. Hand this to readers of A Child Called It.
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  • Caroline (readtotheend on IG)
    January 1, 1970
    I read this with my 13 year old son so we could discuss and when I picked it I had no idea it was a memoir. I loved discussing this with my son - we talked about poverty, abuse, bullying and family. He was surprised by how aggressive the mom was even though she was stressed and abused herself. He acknowledged that while his life is a lot different from Rex's middle school life, he thought it was important to read about experiences that are different than his own. I nudged him to acknowledge how I read this with my 13 year old son so we could discuss and when I picked it I had no idea it was a memoir. I loved discussing this with my son - we talked about poverty, abuse, bullying and family. He was surprised by how aggressive the mom was even though she was stressed and abused herself. He acknowledged that while his life is a lot different from Rex's middle school life, he thought it was important to read about experiences that are different than his own. I nudged him to acknowledge how privileged he is NOT to have to think about food or provisions. My only hesitation is that I felt like it wrapped up too simply. (view spoiler)[ Yes, of course having money can change so many things but my son and I did not buy that everything was hunky dory once mom got a job. (view spoiler)[ We both definitely recommend this as a great discussion book because we enjoyed our discussion of it! (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)]
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