Abuela, Don't Forget Me

Rex Ogle
Norton Young Readers ($18.95) 

by George Longenecker                      

In this book-length poetic memoir, Rex Ogle takes young readers on his journey from despair to hope. His narrative poetry, which explores how he persevered through abuse and poverty, is fast-paced, compelling, and appropriate for young readers.

Ogle’s grandmother is an island of calm in his mother’s storm of instability. She emigrated from Mexico, built a life in Texas, and graduated from college; her daughter, Ogle’s mother, moves from place to place and from man to man. The author’s father has left Texas; he has a new family and only sees his son during summer visits. Abuela takes young Rex in and encourages him to read. She takes him to the library for the first time:

Inside, white walls reach toward blue skies
seen through high glass windows
resting above shelf after shelf after shelf of
book after book after book.
My eyes grow wide, whites wider, pupils dilating
to take in all these stories
begging to be known

“Can I read them all?” I ask.
Abuela smiles.
If you work hard, you can do anything.”

For Rex, the library and books are his redemption from abuse and neglect. The backyard of his neighbor Jason, also a magical and safe place, appears in three poems: “We’re children / so the world is still beautiful / and war / still only a game.” The child’s point of view here comes with no small irony: Abuela is a war widow; her husband, Rex’s grandfather, died in Vietnam. 

For Rex, though, the real war is one his mother wages: “At times when no one sees me, / all eyes on my mom, shouting, ranting, screaming (again) / accusing others of this and that, / I run away.” He’s small enough to hide in a small kid-size closet and wait for it to end.  As he grows older, the abuse worsens. In one episode, “Mom grabs me by the hair / lets her fist fly, coming down again and again.” It’s at these times that his room at Abuela’s is a refuge: “At home, at night, /there is always noise, that keeps me awake. / At Abuela’s / there is only a soft hush.”

At school, Rex faces racist harassment and bullying from classmates. One day on the school bus, he has had enough, “and since Chris is sitting closest to the aisle// I punch him as hard as I can in the face. // It is not the first time / I have been in the principal’s office / for fighting // and it will not be the last.”

Despite his disciplinary record, Rex is a good high school student, excelling in multiple AP classes. Abuela is his inspiration. She works multiple jobs to support Rex and help her daughter out of financial messes. It’s a fast-paced narrative with a trajectory of hope; as the author makes clear in his foreword, “Abuela is the only parent I’ve ever known who showed me truly unconditional love, kindness, and support.” Her refrain to Rex is “Te amo siempre”—I love you forever. 

In well-crafted poetry, Abuela, Don’t Forget Me shows young readers that abuse cannot be forgotten, but it can be overcome. 

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