cover image Free Lunch

Free Lunch

Rex Ogle. Norton Young Readers, $16.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-324-00360-1

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: “[Mom] 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. [em](Sept.) [/em]