Title: With the Fire on High
By: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published: May 7th, 2019
Genre: YA | Contemporary | LGBT+
Buy it: Book Depository
From the New York Times bestselling author of the National Book Award longlist title The Poet X comes a dazzling novel in prose about a girl with talent, pride, and a drive to feed the soul that keeps her fire burning bright.
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.
|| Goodreads ||
“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.”
Diversity/Representation || Afro-Latina Main Character, Queer: Lesbian
I really enjoyed this book, I think it’s absolutely adorable but at the same time, it’s serious and touches super important topics that not many YA books are encouraged to touch, such as teen pregnancy and what this means for the family in general. It’s quite difficult for me to talk about this kind of coming of age story because I think we’ll all experience it differently, according to our life experiences and how we are, you know? so remember that my opinion isn’t the whole truth of what this book is, but of how I’ve felt reading it. Thankfully, I have many good things to say about it, especially the Latina representation, that I’m always looking for, I LOVED IT, I think it was interpreted in a very beautiful and real way. I also love how addresses family issues, although not always good, they’re touched in a realistic way.
With The Fire On High follows the story of Emoni Santiago, a young woman who after gets pregnant in freshman year has had to face very difficult decisions. She’ll do anything to take care of her daughter and her beloved grandmother, who has only supported her by raising her Babygirl. She’s passionate about cooking and not only does the most delicious dishes but also has a unique talent when it comes to preparing recipes that will fill her guests with emotions. Emoni knows that pursuing her dream of becoming a Chef will be a waste of time, but when she realizes she can’t control her passion, the only thing left is to let it free.
Every time I think about how to start telling you what I feel comes to my mind that it’s a beautiful story, it’s about overcoming and it’s about following your dreams, but also shows that hard work has its fruits and how adversities shouldn’t stop you but make you stronger
It’s a very easy book to read although it touches difficult topics as well, I think the point is that the author hasn’t made a melodrama of this story, but something realistic and meaningful. It’s very easy to get into the plot, follow the characters and feel immediately attached to them. I’m not personally a big fan of cooking, so maybe I couldn’t appreciate the subject of the recipes and each preparation, but still, it’s something that I want to mention since I think it could be a unique experience for someone who, like Emoni, loves to cook. Love those little details of ingredients at the beginning of each chapter, I think it looks very aesthetically beautiful, just like that cover, just WOW, is a book to own, no doubt. The reading-paced, as I mentioned, is very good, I enjoyed the author’s writing style and I really appreciate that the chapters are very short, that’s something that I love since you can fly through them.
The characters are wonderful, they can be good or bad but you can’t deny that they’re 100% realistic. Emoni’s such a mature girl for her age, you know that being a young mother things haven’t been easy for her and she has had to deal not only with a huge mental and bodily change but also with what others said about her, for being pregnant at such a young age and, in fact, wanting to keep the baby. People, especially her schoolmates, were quite hard on her and she had to live terrible moments being judged in very unfair ways, which makes you put immediately on her place and want to protect her. Emoni is also Afro-Latina which I adored, obviously, I could feel a lot of identification with her Latina side and for of her relationship with her grandmother, whom I love with all my heart and soul, that woman is an angel. Another thing that I felt in a very personal level has been her relationship with her father since personally I’ve never had mine present, feels very relatable and I could live her frustrations and thoughts about her situation, I admire a lot as in spite of her pain and confusion about her father she gives him a place in her life, I think it’s something very valuable that I wanted to highlight.
As all the characters relate directly to Emoni, I’ll talk a little about each one and how I feel about their respective relationships.
“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.”
I want to start with ‘Buela, of course, I call my grandmother “Buela” as well, so you can imagine my feelings, yes were everywhere and I loved this granddaughter-grandmother relationship that’s so maternal at the same time. Emoni’s mother died during childbirth so her paternal grandmother has taken care of her all her life and that warms my heart, grandparents who raise their grandchildren I think they’re heroes, I admire that a lot. You can see how Buela supports her and helps a lot with the care of her baby Emma, but also encourages her to follow her dreams and is always there for her granddaughter. There’s a moment that I felt a bit of resentment on the way she speaks to Emoni, they’re just some scenes but I couldn’t get them out of my mind, although I think this is because she’s an older woman and there probably had to leave a lot of prejudices behind due to her granddaughter and I understand that, but still, some comments hurt a little.
Emma and Emoni’s relationship is beautiful, there’s so much mother-daughter love there, it seems perfect to me as the author has decided to touch teenage motherhood in a fairly natural way, showing all its negative sides, but also showing love in an unconditional and positive way. There’s a lot of growth in Emoni when she becomes a mother, and I love how she always puts her daughter first and thinks about her all the time. I think she’s a great mom.
The relationship between Emoni and Angelica, I just LOVED it. Angelica or “Gelly”, is Emoni’s best friend and is a great character. She’s lesbian so we have a great rep there, she’s a very fighter, creative and crazy girl, but what I love most is how good friend she is and how she has always been there for Emoni and vice-versa. Seeing them fighting against other people to defend each other seems fantastic to me, it’s a sincere and beautiful friendship. Other than this, I love how free and happy Angelica behaves about who she is and her realization with her girlfriend Laura is so adorable
Then we have Emoni and Malachi. I liked Malachi a lot, although I felt very sorry for how Emoni treated him at the beginning, it’s normal and extremely natural that she doesn’t feel interested or open to a relationship, but she was very hard on him so I felt sorry for my poor boy, luckily this relationship only develops to be better and better every time, and it manages to conquer myself although there are scenes that I didn’t like very much about them together. There’s a scene that I love, and I don’t think it’s a spoiler so I’ll summarize it very quickly: A boy steals Emoni’s wallet and then Malachi chases him and once he does it he wants to know why he did it and the boy says it’s because her little sister is hungry. Emoni ends up giving him some money and everything is fine there, but then Malachi says a something like “people say that it’s very difficult to be a parent but the truth is that I thinks it’s more difficult to be an older brother and how hard is to see your younger brothers need things you can’t give them”. And OMG, I felt that, because I’m the bear mother of my younger brothers.
Then and finally we have Tyrone, he’s the father of Emon’s babygirl, and OMG, he drives me crazy, he starts being a fairly responsible person but then we know a little more about him and he gets worse every time. He makes scenes of absurd jealousy to Emoni and I just thought, this guy is totally crazy lol. In the end, I think that he gets involved and manages to behave better and take a little more responsibility for his daughter and his life. There are times when Tyrone and his family show interest in getting full custody and although there’s not much discussion on the subject I think this is not happening because Emoni agrees to give him more days with his daughter. Even so, I think I would like a more serious dialogue on the subject.
This book touched me personally in many ways, but the culinary theme isn’t really my thing, so I couldn’t appreciate it more, even so, I think that if you like to cook you’ll love all the recipes, ingredients and foods that are named during the book and will probably enhance the whole story for you.
Despite that little detail and some scenes that I don’t enjoy, I really liked the book, I think that besides being adorable, entertaining and delicious, it also touches difficult themes and you go along with Emoni learning what it means to be a teenage mother. In addition, she’s trying to discover her place in the world and fights very hard for it, so I’m proud of all that fury and maturity that this book has as teaching. I think the chapters where they show us the e-mail between Emoni and her Aunt Sarah are very significant since it’s as if it were a little piece of her mother sent with each recipe and that’s very touching.
I highly recommend the book if contemporary is your thing and you like stories focused on the growth of the characters. It has incredible representations, and as far as I know, they’re very well done. I honestly believe that you’ll earn something by reading this book and you’ll not lose any of your time because it’s super fast-paced. I enjoyed it very much & I highly recommend you try it
Trigger Warnings || Teen Pregnancy, Death Mother & Absent Father