cover image Punching Bag

Punching Bag

Rex Ogle. Norton, $17.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-324-01623-6

In this vivid, empathic memoir, 1990s teenager Rex often feels that “something bad is just around the corner. Usually it’s a fist.” Picking up after the events of Free Lunch, the narrative follows Rex as he dodges white stepfather Sam’s anger and abuse while attempting to protect his younger brother—and his violent Mexican mother, Luciana, who “isn’t well” and blames seven-year-old Rex for the death of her stillborn daughter Marisa, Rex’s younger sister. The mystery of the presence of Marisa, who appears to Rex, drives the narrative-in-vignettes. Rex’s mother is evasive, but his grandmothers confirm Sam’s violence was the real culprit in Marisa’s death. In the wake of his parents’ on-and-off relationship, Rex struggles with guilt and helplessness, and with his own temptation toward “the darkness.” Throughout, Marisa guides and comforts Rex, helping him choose self-preservation. Though the story is often brutal, Ogle’s approachable narration reveals a complex picture of multigenerational trauma. Rex’s aunt notes, “Every generation has a choice to make. To pass on what they’ve learned. Or stop it.” In the afterword, Ogle makes his own choice clear, offering a beacon of hope to readers trying to survive their own childhoods. Back matter includes resources and a q&a. Ages 13–up. (Oct.)