All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo

on February 14, 2020

With The Fire On High 
Elizabeth Acevedo
Hardie Grant Egmont
2019, 388p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Ever since she got pregnant during 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. There, she lets her hands tell her what to cook, listening to her intuition and adding a little something magical every time, turning her food into straight-up goodness.  Even though she’s always dreamed of working in a kitchen after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible.

But then an opportunity presents itself to not only enrol in a culinary arts class in her high school, but also to travel abroad to Spain for an immersion program. Emoni knows that her decisions post high school have to be practical ones, but despite the rules she’s made for her life — and everyone else’s rules that she refuses to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.

I heard a lot of wonderful things about this book last year when it was published and it was always on my radar to read. Then I realised that it would fit neatly into at least one category for my Reading Women Podcast Challenge, which bumped it up my priority list a bit. I hadn’t read anything for that challenge yet and I’d like to make steady progress in each of my challenges throughout the year, rather than trying to scramble to find reads to finish them when it’s coming to the end of the year. So I requested this from my local library.

Emoni had a baby about two years ago when she was around fifteen. She’s now seventeen and her “baby girl” is old enough to go to daycare. Emoni fought hard to stay in her regular school, rather than going to a school specifically for young teenage mothers and she finds her plate full up with not only parenting her child and finishing school but also working part time at a burger place in order to earn some extra money. She lives with her grandmother, who also raised her after Emoni’s mother died during her birth and her father wasn’t able to cope with the idea of single fatherhood, heading back to Puerto Rico. He visits every year, appearing and vanishing at will, leaving Emoni with some very complicated feelings about him. She’s no longer in a relationship with her daughter’s father although the two do have a relatively amicable coparenting agreement, albeit one that favours Tyrone in that he only has every other weekend now that she’s getting old enough to have sleepovers away from Emoni. The day to day parenting load is all on Emoni and her abuela, who has helped Emoni from day one.

Emoni’s passion is food and she’d love to work within this industry, but she’s not sure how to map out her future. School can be a struggle for her and university is just more years between her and earning enough money to support her daughter (and grandmother). Plus she’ll graduate with debt. Then her school introduces a culinary arts class, which could help Emoni realise the future she wants for herself.

I adored this book. From the very beginning I was hooked on the story and really became invested in Emoni’s life, her attempts to balance everything and make the best life she could for herself and her daughter. She’s dedicated and determined and works so hard. She is pretty honest about her abilities as a student – plenty of work doesn’t come easy for her and she knows a lot of colleges will be out of her grasp. She’s a natural at cooking though, instinctively knowing what ingredients complement each other and how to really give a meal something extra. Her food evokes memory and she just has that true connection with food. She’s not a recipe or rules person however, which causes her some conflict with the chef in charge of the culinary arts class she enrols in at school. He knows she’s incredibly gifted but in order to do the job, you have to learn the theory and have that background knowledge. I really enjoyed the way the two of them clashed a bit at first but I think deep down you could tell how supportive he was of her and how he thought she had a place in the future in that industry. The ideas and motivations that Emoni has to raise money for a trip to Spain is really impressive – she thinks outside the box, practical ideas that not only help them in their goal but give them experience.

I appreciated the balance in this story – there’s equal parts devoted to Emoni’s struggles with her ‘load’ – school, work, her daughter, her grandmother as well as her complicated feelings for and relationship with her father, as well as her precarious co-parenting agreement with her ex-boyfriend and the difficulties faced in sharing that as well as the complications of his family not approving of her. There’s also a new boy at school who wants to be friends with Emoni but she definitely wants to make sure that he’s not just looking for one thing. Seeing as she got pregnant very young, she saw how that changed the way people looked at her, and how they continue to still look at her that way. She didn’t get pregnant alone but her ex doesn’t face the same sort of judgement that Emoni does and he also has very little in the way of responsibility. He also wants to tell Emoni what she can and can’t do in regards to other boys and who she can and cannot bring around her home and have around their daughter. I liked the way Emoni stood up for herself calmly but firmly. It’s the same when she feels looked down upon by his mother, or judged for not doing the right thing. I admired her restraint at times, the way she managed to keep herself collected even when she was being unfairly treated.

I should also mention the food, and Emoni’s love of and devotion to preparing the food of her culture. Her grandmother is from Puerto Rico and her father has gone back there to live. I love reading books about food, where food makes up an important part of the narrative and this book has some mouthwatering descriptions and Emoni’s passion for cooking leaps off the page. I especially like the way her cooking played back into her relationship with her father and his complicated feelings about eating her food. It was such a small part of the book but it was very powerful. Also Emoni emails her aunt, her late mother’s sister a lot and they swap recipes back and forth, Emoni often altering them or adding her own flair and then sending it back. It was a way for her to be able to stay connected to her mother’s family. So many subtle ways in which the author explores relationships and connections.

I really enjoyed this. I know Elizabeth Acevedo’s Poet X is also well lauded but I generally do not do well with poetry. However I might just be tempted to try it…and I’m definitely looking forward to future offerings.


Book #19 of 2020

I’m going to count this one for prompt #1 – author from the Caribbean or India (with the diaspora counting for this prompt). Elizabeth Acevedo was born in the US to Dominican parents. This is the first book completed in the challenge!

4 responses to “Review: With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo

  1. lydiaschoch says:

    What a great review. Now I’m even more excited to read this book.

  2. Marg says:

    So I’ve already looked at the library catalogue to see if it is available or not! Which it is.

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