Punching Bag

Norton. Oct. 2021. 224p. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781324016236.
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.

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