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.
In FREE LUNCH, 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.”
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 canon of youth memoirs, and Rex’s powerful, lyrical storytelling shines a light on those living in the shadows.
I received a copy of this book from the author and publisher in return for an honest review.
I wanted to read and review this memoir because it highlights what life is like for many children in the world today. Told from the point of view of an eleven-year-old boy, it reads like poignant fiction, but it’s true. Although heartbreaking to read, it is also empowering, The boy faced abuse, hunger, ridicule and shame, but still retained his capacity to love, protected his younger sibling and ultimately his mother, and retained a sometimes misplaced optimism, that life would improve, if he just kept living it.
The book is easy to read and will interest, everyone from older children to adults. The chapters are headed, detailing a significant memory, and are mainly short. It is a book you can read a chapter of and return to later, but I couldn’t put it down. The honesty of the recollections, and the injustices they highlight resonate.
An immersive memoir that everyone should read. Disturbing, emotional, honest and memorable.
Rex is a former children’s book editor who now lives in Los Angeles with his partner. He enjoys hiking with friends and his dog, devouring books, and cooking.
“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.”
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 experience learning disabilities and other cognitive impairments
- Children who suffer from hunger often face emotional and social roadblocks