Growing up, Rex was used to pain. Hunger pains, pains from bruises left from being hit either by his mom, or his mom’s boyfriend, and the pain of feeling like he had to hide his family’s situation from the world. In fact, at times, it feels like to Rex, there will never be a time when he doesn’t have some kind of pain.
Heading into 6th grade, Rex is worried about the pain of humiliation that he will feel each time he gets free lunch at school. See, his mom signed him up for the program because they don’t have enough money for him to buy lunch and really not enough food at home for him to bring it each day. Which means Rex has to say each day to the lunch lady that he gets a free lunch and she has to look it up, each day, in the red folder. In front of everyone. Not only does Rex have to contend with this each day, but he never knows what is going to set off his mom at home. Will she be okay, or will she get into a fight with Sam, her boyfriend, or Rex will say or do something that sets her off. And money. Money is what will get her going more than anything. And Rex is expected to take care of his younger brother Ford a lot of the time, sometimes for days at a time.
Free Lunch by Rex Ogle is a stark and illuminating book showing how abuse comes in many forms and how each and every day, kids are living situations they are trying to navigate to the best of their abilities. While this book is nonfiction and documenting Ogle’s life starting in 6th grade, there are some very mature references in the book and that needs to be understand before embarking on reading it. That said, this is such a great book, readers will fly through it, wanting to know what will happen to Rex next, and always, always hoping for something good among all the bad.
Recommended for mature 8th graders and up.