Free Lunch is the best teen nonfiction book I have read this year. With heart and grit and hope, Rex Ogle has crafted an amazing tour de force in this memoir of his 6th grade year. As the title indicates, Rex receives “free lunch” at school. He is living in grinding poverty with his unemployed mom and stepdad, where he is also expected to provide the majority of the care for his toddler brother, Ford. Middle school, which Rex had initially been looking forward to, has become a nightmare. He is profiled by a teacher based on his race and obvious lack of money, he is dumped by his elementary friends when his mother declares he can’t even try out for the football team, and the elderly lunch lady makes him shout out his name and “Free Lunch” every single day.
In this unflinching look back at his life, Ogle discusses the ways poverty pervaded every corner of his life: the relationships he had or wished to have, the abuse he suffers, his self-esteem, his basic feelings of safety and security. But he also shows how hope is something that, if one is willing to look for it, is always hanging around. While he doesn’t sugar coat the challenges he was sure to continue experiencing, he discovers as he matures that he can try to find his own joys: in new friendships, studying, and trying to empathize with others who are facing rough times.
I wanted to go back and read it again, as soon as I finished. Please go check it out! Free Lunch by Rex Ogle