With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Published by: HarperTeen
Publish Date: 2019
Genre(s): YA, Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
HB&W Rating: 4
View on Goodreads
Buy on Amazon: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository
Sometimes focusing on what you can control is the only way to lessen the pang in your chest when you think about the things you can’t.
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.
Synopsis source: Goodreads
I’ve never been to an opera, but this must be what it’s like for a conductor to walk into an opera house, see the stage lit and the curtains drawn back, and know that they were meant to make the walls echo with music.
It’s been a minute since I read any YA, and I’d like to say that I’m not the kind to judge a book by its cover, but we definitely all do that, right? At least in the literal sense of the expression. The less eye-catching covers barely pique our interest while those beautiful vibrant covers just beg us to pick them up. I’d never read anything by Elizabeth Acevedo, but with a 4.28 rating for this title on Goodreads and her previous book having been so well-received, it was enough to persuade me to pick up a YA book again. I mean, just LOOK at that cover, amiright?
I really liked this story. Emoni is easy to like and admire, and it is a heartwarming story about believing in yourself and following your dreams against the odds. It’s about getting out of your own way to allow yourself to be open to the possibility of having a chance at those dreams. And it is a story of forging your own path. With wit, grit, and heart, we watch as this teen mom and culinary magician navigates high school, motherhood, and learns to trust in herself enough to go after what she wants.
‘Your’e a nice man, Steve. So kind. I’m going to tell my grandmother to pray for you.’ And I hope he can see in my face that I just sprinkled the juju of a spiteful Puerto Rican grandmother all over his life.
I found Acevedo’s writing witty and engaging, poetic and humorous in equal turns. Emoni has a lot on her plate, but she finds an escape in the kitchen, where she creates food that evokes certain memories and emotional reactions to those who consume it, sort of like that old Sarah Michelle Geller movie Simply Irresistible. I think I just dated myself…crap, well, I may as well tell you that the version of this movie I owned was on VHS. Whatever, go stream it somewhere and then you’ll see what I’m talking about.
I really loved Emoni. Her spunk and sass, her drive, the way she cares for her abuela and her little girl, and on top of all that, she is magical in the kitchen. Emoni is the kind of girl you would see around school, and automatically form opinions about. Pregnant at 14, she’s the kind of girl you wouldn’t expect much out of, the kind of girl you look past and look over. She’s the kind of girl who after “disgracing” herself by getting pregnant, only ever attracts the wrong sort of male attention, or falls victim to the marginalization of her circumstances. She’s got the double stigma of being of Puerto Rican descent and being black, a fact that is even questioned within the black community she lives in. But Emoni takes no shit and suffers no fools.
I don’t reduce, homies. The whole of me is Black. The whole of me is whole.
The path that Emoni has chosen, to raise her daughter, to finish school, to look to a career for herself was not an easy one, and with the general population expecting her to fail, it’s little wonder she doubts herself and lets that doubt color her opinions about her future.
He says the best way to move forward is to keep it grassroots; when you support the community, the community will support you.
But as I said, this story has heart, and that heart comes through in the form of the community Emoni is surrounded by, the people who choose to continue to show up for this girl, like her grandmother, best friend, and of course the cute new boy at school (this is YA after all), like her homeroom teacher, new culinary teacher, and even in unexpected ways, her baby’s father and his mom.
I’ve seen some reviews call this book plot-driven, and I can see their point. But for me, it came down to the fact that I just really enjoyed the read. So for me, I can look past the convenient machinations to further the story. It was enjoyable, quick and I would read more from this author.
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