Review: WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH by Elizabeth Acevedo

Publisher: HarperTeen
Page Count: 392
Release Date: May 7th, 2019
Series: Standalone
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It

Note: I was provided a free copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.

38739562Emoni Santiagos has a lot on her plate: college applications, raising money for senior trip to Spain, raising her two-year-old daughter.  With the end of year fast approaching, she’s having to face tough decisions about her future.  Her passion and talent lie in cooking, and she wants to go to a culinary arts school so she can one day be a chef.  But can she balance her classes and work and also raise a daughter?

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is an excellent blend of ingredients, a homemade meal that will warm your heart.  It alternates between two kinds of chapters: chapters that move the plot forward, as Emoni navigates school, college applications, work, and a possible new romance on the horizon, and chapters that take a broader look at her life.  This second kind of chapters offer her views on everything from how she was treated by the other kids when they found out she was pregnant, to her strained relationship with her father, to her struggle as a mixed-race person to find an ethnic community that accepts her.  She never comes off whiny, but at times as understandably frustrated that the world couldn’t be a little more straightforward.

Emoni is utterly relatable as high school senior.  All of us who have survived the senior year of high school (particularly in America) and the college process know that it is stressful under even normal circumstances.  It’s several months of decision making that ultimately could affect the rest of your life.  But isn’t just Emoni that will be affected by her choices.  She also has to figure in her daughter (affectionately referred to as BabyGirl), as well as her grandmother who has been helping to raise the child.  Through it all, Emoni always puts her daughter first. Everything else, from the class trip to Spain to the new guy in school who wants to be her boyfriend, is secondary.  Emoni is responsible almost to a fault, and part of her growth is learning that it’s okay to take some time for herself every once in a while.

Emoni weathers it all with cooking.  She’s the kind of chef who instinctually knows when to go off-book, what spice will take a dish to the next level.  And this is the part of the book I was looking forward to and it paid off.  Acevedo’s descriptions of Emoni’s cooking, chopping and mixing and reaching for the odd ingredient, were a delight to read, and were a soothing tonic in an otherwise stressful time in my life. (I was having a particularly bad day coping with self-isolation when I cracked this book open.)

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is a snapshot into another life, a young girl’s perspective on the world as she works to find her place within it.  It’s not a high stakes book, but that doesn’t make it any less important. It truly spotlights all the different elements that come together to make you who you are: your family, your school, your community, your heritage, your talents, your failures.  It’s a heartwarming story and if you’re looking for an #ownvoices contemporary tale, I highly recommend it.


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