With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Published by HarperTeen on May 7, 2019
Genre: Contemporary | Audience: Young Adult
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions—doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness.
Even though she dreams of working as a chef after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet despite the rules she thinks she has to play by, once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.
ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review
Before I get into this review can we take a moment to appreciate the amazingness that is this cover? Emoni with her hair in that scarf, the hoop earrings, that eyeliner, and those perfectly arched eyebrows? I wonder if she gets them waxed or threaded.
And then they added the fruit around her like this cover wasn’t already the bomb.com?
Basically, the cover is breathtaking and I love the vibrant island vibes. Whoever designed it deserves a raise.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let’s talk about the book.
Slice of Life
The Poet X was one of my favorite books last year so I honestly couldn’t wait to read Elizabeth Acevedo’s newest release. I was so ecstatic when I saw it on Edelweiss and even more excited when I got approved for the ARC.
With the Fire on High is a beautiful coming-of-age tale about 17-year old Emoni, an Afro-Puerto Rican teen who is both a mother and an amazing cook (I’m a little envious). We follow her in her senior year of high school as she tackles motherhood, high school, family, co-parenting, and more. She’s surrounded by an amazing support system, which includes her abuela, her best friend, a few teachers and other characters we meet along the way.
“The world is a turntable that never stops spinning; as humans we merely choose the tracks we want to sit out and the ones that inspire us to dance.”
What I Liked
There are so many things I loved about With the Fire on High, but here are the highlights:
🌻 The characters. I loved the characters and the familial relationships. Emoni is authentic and introspective. When we meet her at the beginning of the book, she’s kind of reserved and a little closed off emotionally, but she opens up as the story develops. I adored her relationship with her abuela and her best friend, Angelica. They’re really supportive of her and challenge her at the same time. Although this story is about Emoni, the side characters are also amazing and three dimensional. Abuela has her own feelings about raising her granddaughter and great-granddaughter. Angelica isn’t just a queer PoC character. She’s super talented and has aspirations. Malachi isn’t just the new kid in school. And Emoni’s father, Julio, is complicated.
✍🏽 Writing. Elizabeth Acevedo’s writing is wonderful and organic. The characters feel real and are easy to identify with because of that. I loved the way we saw abuela reciprocate the same love and attention Emoni gives her daughter, Emma, towards Emoni. I loved the way the writing challenges racial identity and the queer POC representation. I also loved the way the writing captures Emoni’s complicated relationship with her father.
👶🏾 Co-parenting. This was so important to show two black teen parents co-parenting. Elizabeth Acevedo could’ve gone in any direction, but she chose to write healthy co-parenting and a black father who is actively involved in his child’s life. I’m happy she made the decision to show that instead of a toxic baby mama/baby daddy relationship.
❤️ The romance. This is probably an unpopular opinion but I liked the romance. Sure it was kind of insta-lovey and I think the book would’ve still worked without it, but it showed that POC girls can find love regardless of their circumstances. Emoni had every reason to be closed off to relationships, but she found someone who was patient and kind and I think that was important. I’m always here for black girls being happy in healthy loving relationships.
🍊 The recipes and food. I loved the delicious little recipes throughout the book and I couldn’t stop wondering: “Are these real? Can I try them at home?” It was a very nice touch. I also loved that Emoni’s cooking evoked visceral feelings from people. Very unique. I wish I enjoyed cooking as much as Emoni and that I was half as talented as she is at cooking.
What I Disliked
While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, there are just a few things that didn’t work for me:
- The nonlinear story. The beginning of the book felt like a collection of stories instead of a novel. That was unexpected and took a little getting used to, but it changes.
- The abrupt ending. The ending felt a little rushed and not quite wrapped up. I wish we had more time with these character.
Overall, I’m happy this book exists. I wish it existed when I was growing up because I was raised by my grandmother and had a similar complicated relationship with my father so teenage-Merline would’ve liked this. Also, my mom had me when she was 16 and I know so many other people who had babies in high school. This story and representation is so important. Highly recommend this to everyone!