Free Lunch by Rex Ogle is a book made purely from the truth. The book tells the story of the author’s lived experience with the horrors of poverty, inequality, and racism in America. It is a moving and inspiring story about the author’s perseverance. I admire Rex Ogle so much.
The setting is a wealthy school district where young Rex is starting middle school. It seems everyone but Rex has a car, a house, clothes that fit them, and enough money to make a living. In addition to the slights Rex encounters because of his socio-economic status, he experiences discrimination because of his race. At home, Rex’s parents are jobless and rely on government aid to feed the family. They often rely on fast food for lunch, dinner, and breakfast. Rex’s parents seem to neglect him and his little brother. Rex is often responsible for providing the meals for the family and caring for his baby brother.
This book taught me so much about the flaws in our society and the connections between societal problems. It made me question many things I took for granted. For example, why is it that success in our society is defined by having a house and car? Why can’t everyone get free lunch in our schools? There is no need to distinguish between students based on their family income. Why can’t affordable and healthy foods be available in schools, restaurants, and stores so that people won’t have to turn to fast food? If students cannot pay for their school supplies, they should be available for free from the school. Sometimes students are not able to cope with the school work. There should be after school support for them. There should be free or affordable childcare support for parents. Jobs should be easier to get and pay well. Accessibility to jobs and information is not equal in our society. It should be equal. Surely we can invest more in the education, health, and well being of our children instead of wars.
This book should be assigned reading for all middle school children. Children who read this book will step into the shoes of someone who is not like them—into the world of someone who is suffering. They will learn about racism and discrimination. They will learn how hard it is to get out of the cycle of poverty. Children who read this book will want to make a change and help others around them. They will learn to want to change society for the better. They will learn not to want too much. Children who do not have enough now will learn to have hope and persistence.
Incredibly, despite the difficult subject matter and many tearful parts, this book made me feel hopeful in a hopeless world. My favorite part in the book was when Rex made a friend who he was able to talk to about stories, family, and even serious topics like the existence of God. The relationship between Rex and this friend is a true friendship because of the kind of connection they make with each other. Unfortunately, many friendships that my peers have are shallow. True friendships, however, can give people hope.
This book is so unique because it is written by a person who has faced poverty and climbed out of it. Rex Ogle is not trying to be someone they are not. His honesty and truth are evident in the writing and flow of the book. This is what makes the book so special for me. I haven’t read anything like it. I think Rex Ogle is telling us through his life story to never give up hope, even though the temptation may be high. This is especially relevant when we are in the midst of a global pandemic, climate change threatens the existence of life, and tensions and conflicts are all around us. We are being tested right now. It seems we are being pushed to our limits. The story in this book tells us how to cope with such despair and uncertainty. You have to be persistent. You must have trust in others around you.
Free Lunch by Rex Ogle. Norton Young Readers, 2021. Buy the book here and help support Stone Soup in the process!