With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.
I was drawn into this book by the gorgeous cover, and I’ve heard a lot of good things about Elizabeth Acevedo’s books. Honestly, I think this is the first book about a teen parent I’ve ever read. I’m glad I shrugged off my doubt, because With the Fire on High is a wonderful coming-of-age book about love, family, and finding a place in the world.
I adored Emoni as a protagonist. She’s so confident and self-assured, even when she has doubts, and I found that incredibly admirable. And she’s so passionate about everything she does–most notably cooking, but also putting in so much effort and love towards her family and friends and school. Like–if I had an ounce of her confidence, and she’s only seventeen! I loved all her relationships, and it’s clear that Emoni has so much love to give, to her daughter Emma, to her friend Angelica, to her abuela, and to the new boy Malachi. I don’t usually get on board with romance in books, but here Malachi was one of Emoni’s many important relationships so I didn’t feel like it was overbearing, especially knowing that Emoni refused to date since the birth of her daughter.
With the Fire on High reads very much like a slice-of-life book, which I really liked. Emoni learns how to cede some of her control to others, and let other people take care of things while also giving herself time to grow. Emoni also struggles with keeping in touch with her father, Julio, and the complexities of her Afro-Puerto-Rican heritage. There were discussions of colonialism and food which I also found very interesting, because the culmination of the cooking class that Emoni enrolls in is a trip to Spain, which–as a Puerto Rican, and as a Black American, Emoni obviously has very, very complex feelings about.
The other thing this book made me is hungry. Emoni’s a skilled cook, and the description really doesn’t skimp on how delicious her food is. This book made me want to get into cooking, though the results of that were, er, mixed. Emoni is honestly so much of an inspiration, y’all. I just can’t get across how much I loved her.
I really, really enjoyed With the Fire on High and highly recommend it for anyone who’s looking for a good coming-of-age story, or a book that will make you salivate and then try to cook one of the recipes Emoni talks about and then set the whole thing on fire–not that I’d know from experience…
representation | afro-puerto-rican main character, lesbian side character, black characters
have you read any of elizabeth acevedo’s books??