Title: With the Fire on High
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genre: Contemporary YA
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication date: May 7 2019
Hardcover: 400 pages
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.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Borrowed
Format (e- or p-): audiobook
The whole of me is whole.
With the Fire on High was not on my radar at all until a video interview with Elizabeth Acevedo showed up in my timeline on Twitter. In it, the author talks about the book, about addressing the stigma of Latinx teen pregnancy and what happens after a teen has decided to keep a baby. I started reading the book that same day. And I loved it.
Emoni Santiago is the teen mom of two year old Emma – a child she brings up with the help of her abuela, who brought Emoni up after her mom died in childbirth and her dad moved back to Puerto Rico. Emma’s father is in the picture taking Emma away during weekend visitations but mostly it’s Emoni, Emma and abuela struggling to make ends meet. Emoni is also a high school senior with a decision to make about her future. Should she go to college in order to become a chef, with all the financial implications this means?
Emoni loves food and the description of her cooking, of her pleasure and delight when cooking, of her knowledge about food are nearly as magical as her food is described to be. Her love for cooking, for creating dishes shine through.
And 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.
It’s not all roses though – Emoni and abuela do struggle for money and when an opportunity at culinary arts class arise for Emoni to travel to Sevilla for a week with the course, she has to do everything she can to raise the money to go. But there is Emoni’s acumen and the support of her community to account for and this is another thing I loved about the book: the sense of community, of caring adults and teens working together. In her own age group, Emoni has a delightful best friend and a budding romantic relationship with new boy in town. Speaking of boys, it’s so great to read about Black teens boys who are depicted as caring, responsible, nurturing. Even Emoni’s father, someone who left her behind as a baby, is shown as a complex character with his own difficult choices made. This character has a strong sense of community, of social responsibility and of history which often clashes with his personal responsibilities as a son, as a father and as a grandfather and those clashes are given the importance they deserve within the story, in the relationship with is daughter and how it has morphed over the years. The chapters are short, to be point and sometimes the point is a dagger to the heart in the best possible way.
With the Fire on High gives us an Afro Puerto Rican teen who gets to be a foodie and a chef, who gets to travel, who gets to be lucky. It shows a hopeful scenario for everything life can, should be: not without struggles but with enough support, structure and nurture that anything can be accomplished. I loved it for what it is: a beautiful, poetic, remarkably drama-free portrayal of a teen mother growing into her own.
Rating: 9 – Damn Near Perfect
I listed to the audiobook, narrated by the author herself and it was brilliant. Highly, highly recommended.
Also recommended: another book, similar in topic, about a teen who gets pregnant: Belly Up by Eva Darrows.
Refreshingly free of drama and pretty much all characters are laid back, awesome queer teens. There is a strong sense of found family on this one as well as a core super-supportive family of women – the main character’s mother and grandmother. This one follows the main character as she gets pregnant, decides to keep the baby and throughout her pregnancy.