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Punching bag
2021
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Publishers Weekly Review
In this vivid, empathic memoir, 1990s teenager Rex often feels that "something bad is just around the corner. Usually it's a fist." Picking up after the events of Free Lunch, the narrative follows Rex as he dodges white stepfather Sam's anger and abuse while attempting to protect his younger brother--and his violent Mexican mother, Luciana, who "isn't well" and blames seven-year-old Rex for the death of her stillborn daughter Marisa, Rex's younger sister. The mystery of the presence of Marisa, who appears to Rex, drives the narrative-in-vignettes. Rex's mother is evasive, but his grandmothers confirm Sam's violence was the real culprit in Marisa's death. In the wake of his parents' on-and-off relationship, Rex struggles with guilt and helplessness, and with his own temptation toward "the darkness." Throughout, Marisa guides and comforts Rex, helping him choose self-preservation. Though the story is often brutal, Ogle's approachable narration reveals a complex picture of multigenerational trauma. Rex's aunt notes, "Every generation has a choice to make. To pass on what they've learned. Or stop it." In the afterword, Ogle makes his own choice clear, offering a beacon of hope to readers trying to survive their own childhoods. Back matter includes resources and a q&a. Ages 13--up. (Oct.)
School Library Journal Review
Gr 7 Up--"Your sister is dead, and it's your fault." This haunting declaration sets the tone for the author's life when, at age seven, he returns from a three-month stay with grandparents in another state to be forced by his frantic mother to look at photos of his stillborn sister Marisa. In this follow-up to Free Lunch, his 2019 memoir about childhood battles with poverty, Ogle details years of merciless violence--emotional, psychological, and often physical--as mom and stepdad Sam brutalize each other and each of them attacks him. He recounts how, when the police show up at their apartment, he feels pressure to lie to keep the family together for younger brother Ford. Throughout, he is advised and comforted by a fleeting dream of Marisa. Despite all this, Ogle shows a remarkable empathy for his parents, both of them victims of severe domestic abuse in their own childhoods, as well as for his mother's struggle with mental illness and Sam's with alcohol addiction. Frequently coarse and profane language may be off-putting for sensitive readers. Instances of homophobia and anti-Hispanic bigotry (Ogle's mother is Mexican American), amplified by derogatory epithets, nonetheless serve to frame his social isolation. The volume closes with a list of resources for suicide prevention and combating domestic violence, as well as a Q&A with Ogle from earlier this year. Though the subject matter is harrowing and it is at times difficult to continue reading, Ogle's message throughout is focused on survival and hope. VERDICT Highly recommended for all middle and high school collections.--Bob Hassett, Luther Jackson M.S., Falls Church, VA
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