Back-to-School: Abuse and Food Insecurity
Free Lunch, by Rex Ogle
Pull up a box of tissues before you open this one, because you will cry, even if the main character, Rex, is dry-eyed for most of it.
As a reader looking in on Rex's ever-hungry middle school experiences, many aspects of this story will disturb you: the abuse and neglect at his mother's hands, the dysfunctional and violently abusive relationship between his mother and step-father, the fact that no teacher ever picks up on what's going on at home or even tries to inquire, and the lack of reporting abuse in general.
What bothered me the most is that not once is Rex encouraged to report what happens at home. Compounding his growing isolation is the fact that, from his frame of reference, he's not even sure what's happening at home isn't typical of every kid at school.
Rex is very much the silent child in class, the nut you can't or don't crack but wonder about his circumstances every day, and whether you're doing enough to reach him (hint: you aren't).
A tough read, but a rewarding one, and one your students will benefit from, if only to realize that what they experience every day is not universal and there's no shame in asking for help.
I'd also post my state's child abuse hotline number on the inside of the front or back cover, as well .
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