Elizabeth Acevedo serves up a delicious coming-of-age drama, written in prose, with a dash of following your dreams and a pinch of romance!
WHO WROTE IT AND WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Author Elizabeth Acevedo has also written YA novels Clap When You Land and Poet X, and is a New York Times Bestselling author. The Dominican-American poet has also won the National Book Award and the Carnegie Medal and is a poetry slam winner! And now she's gone and written this little gem, 'With The Fire On High' is another award-winning book being named one of the best books of the year (2021), by New York Public Library! She just keeps on winning and I am so here for it.
The protagonist of the novel Emoni Santiago is just trying to get through her final year of high school and she wants to graduate with the rest of her class. But being a single parent to a toddler Emma, having concerns around her Abuela's health and having to keep an after school part-time job so she can support her means she's having to play catch up and work twice as hard as everyone else. As if being a teenager and single parent wasn't chaotic enough, having to deal with the whispers and looks in the hallway that comes with being a young mother and not to mention the stress of an immature baby father is almost too much to handle.
"Where we come from leaves its fingerprints all over us, and if you know how to read the signs of a place, you know a little bit more about who someone is."
As soon as Emoni is in the kitchen, cooking (with the fire on high), she can let go of her problems and obligations and it is the one place she is truly in control. When her school offers a culinary arts class, Emoni signs up, reluctantly as she's used to looking after other people and their needs, naturally, she finds it hard to allow herself this opportunity and let go of guilt. The novel opens with Emoni getting Emma ready for her first day of daycare, and her distress at the fact she couldn't take her because she had to go to school. It also doesn't help with everyone talking about college applications and she's not sure if she even wants to go because that would potentially mean more time away from Emma.
While she is trying to be a brilliant mother to her daughter she is also dealing with her own parental issues. Her mother died in childbirth and her father decided single parent life wasn't for him and moved back to Puerto Rico. Emoni was brought up by his mother, her Abuela who she has a beautiful, close relationship. Her father, Julio does pop in and out and although there are things Emoni hasn't been able to articulate to him, they have a relationship. She struggles to find a way to communicate how abandoned she felt by him, and how unimportant she felt compared to his community projects which play into their relationship quite a bit.
"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."
New boy in school Malachi is trying to get to know Emoni, who doesn't have time for boys, not to mention the politics of dating while being a parent, and although she has best friend Angelica for support, it's still new territory. Best friend Angelica is a refreshing and supportive addition in Emoni's life, and also Emma's godmother. She's always encouraging her friend to chase her dreams and even employs Emoni to cook an anniversary dinner for her and her girlfriend.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE
I sympathised with Emoni about the way she was treated by Tyrone's mom. Other than that one character, there wasn't anything I disliked about it. Emoni opened up about her journey to getting pregnant with Emma and her relationship with Tyrone, and being so young there was still a lot she had to process while being deep in active parenthood.
WHAT I LOVED
This was such an easy read, so detailed in Emoni's knowledge and references to food. I loved the diversity of the characters and how much sense of love and community there is. 'With The Fire On High' touches on several subjects such as teen pregnancy, queer teenage relationships, judgement towards pregnant teenagers within the Latinx community, parental abandonment and single parent struggles.
"The world is a turntable that never stops spinning as humans we merely choose tracks we want to sit out and the ones that inspire us to dance."
SO SHOULD I READ IT OR NOT SIS?
I think you can tell where this is going, I definitely recommend this book, especially if you love cooking, or eating food. I can tell why its' an award winner and I think you will too.
*FUN FACT* Check out some of Elizabeth's poetry below.