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YA nonfiction review: Free Lunch by Rex Ogle

Title: Free Lunch

Author: Rex Ogle

Year Published: 2019

Category: YA nonfiction (memoir)
Pages: 203
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2020 Google Reading map)USA (TX) 

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this from one of our local school libraries

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): 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.
Review: I have not been doing as well on my ALA Youth Media Awards challenge this year so when I saw this book at one of our high school libraries yesterday I grabbed it up. And yes, I had work to do, but read this book in one night instead, it's that good.

I almost want to refer to this book as a novel even though it's nonfiction. Ogle tells the story of his first year in middle school and it reads like fiction, which is very effective. His life was not easy and I was pulled in from the first page. I think all readers can relate to parts of Ogle's story even if they haven't experienced poverty and abuse the way he did. At that age we're all uncertain, want someone to sit with at lunch, want to do well in class and be supported by our teachers, and have a safe home environment.

This book shows how poverty infiltrates every aspect of a child's life from food to clothing to friends to holidays and family interactions. Of course, this is just one story and everyone experiences poverty differently, but Ogle's experiences will resonate with all ages.

Challenges for which this counts: 

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