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.
PUBLISHED ON 7 MAY 2019 BY HARPERTEEN
GENRE: YA CONTEMPORARY
With The Fire On High is the most delicious recipe of a coming-of-age, teenage parent who loves her daughter, Babygirl, to the ends of the world. There’s a core of racial and sexual diversity along with the hard recounting of a judgemental world while the base is all the dreams Emoni wants to see rise up. It’s a story worth devouring for all the characters who support and love this strong woman in every different way. Oh, and it’s topped with so much food, so many recipes, and so many musical recounting of the flavors of a dish!
It shouldn’t be a surprise that I loved this after being awestruck and highly impressed by The Poet X a few months back. Acevedo had easily made it to my list of favourite poets and seeing her prose fiction lined up for a release, I knew I was going to be impressed again. And sure I was!
And maybe I’m stereotyping her, too. Pretending to know what kind of a woman she is because of the kind of women who have hated on me…and all the black and brown girls we know from home; who have shaken their heads and tsked their teeth, and reminded us we weren’t welcome in their part of the city…in their world.
The best aspect of this story was the diversity. And not just the diversity that labels you according to colour but a diversity that you embrace with all your heart; the culture that you want to show off through the things you do best–like Emoni recreating her family dishes with a little something extra. But the main character isn’t the only one blessed with the strength to wear their identity and their own ambitions with pride. It was refreshing to see a set of supporting characters who did support Emoni but who also carried their own stories forward.
And ain’t that what it means to be a sister [best friend]? Holding things tight when the other one is falling apart?
Angelica, Emoni’s best friend, is a lesbian and a talented designer who is given the much-needed spotlight as the most supportive best friend one can ever ask for. Honestly, seeing these two made me shout goals more than anything! ‘Buela, Emoni’s grandmother, is an understanding woman of age and knowledge. She knows what’s best for her grand-daughter and the little Babygirl, and does all she can do for these two girls she loves. But she also doesn’t shy away from walking on a path that doesn’t just confine her to a set of roles.
“I want to be remembered for something great. I want to leave a skyscraper sized mark on the world that reminds people, [character] was fucking here.”
I nod along with [character]. I know just what she means.
I’ve always said that dreams and ambitions in stories are something I preach. I’m a strong believer of reaching for the moon so you can at least land among the stars, and seeing Emoni be such an enthusiast about her talent and her love for cooking is an honest inspiration. It’ll make you want to cheer for her with all your heart or you might end up being super motivated yourself. She has been portrayed as one of the most hustling teenagers I’ve ever read in fiction and that excites me like nothing else. She knows her priorities but she’s also not ready to give up on what she finds the most comfort in: cooking!
I want her to know her entire life her mommy may not have been much but that her mom did everything so she could be an accumulation of the best dreams.
The representation of a teenage parent and most importantly, a mother, is heartwarming and the dripping with honesty. Right from the little sacrifices Emoni has to make to the fact that she doesn’t even consider them sacrifices because she knows she loves her daughter too much to not prioritise her over a few other things, every detail of her parenting journey is raw and displays affection in the best way possible.
And something special does happen when I’m cooking…an innate need to tell a story through food.
Cooking is the essence of this story! It’s established as the most important aspect of Emoni’s life and no one’s complaining because honestly, who doesn’t like to read about food, about the way it’s being savored, about all the flavors, and sometimes full-fledged recipes. Evidently, Emoni has a talent for twisting dishes to make them taste different and even more delicious. Truth be told, reading this will compel you to become a chef and rush to that kitchen of yours…or to simply dine out or order something because everything sounds mouthwatering.
Some girl–or boy–(Angelica’s always reminding me not to be “so damn hetero”) is going to find themselves caught up with Malachi. I can already tell.
Well, that was a fair warning but trust me, you can’t stop yourself from falling for this love interest because he’s so much more than that! Malachi is a true friend first and his broad-minded male mind is a pleasant surprise because he doesn’t pay heed to what others say about a girl or what defines a girl according to norms. He’s immediately interested in Emoni front he first sight but no, it isn’t cheesy or cringey by any chance. It’s the most endearing and adorable love story that involves jokes, smiles, dimples, and all the cuteness you can imagine.
And I know I should love the freedom, but I don’t think I’m ready for all the safety nets to be cut loose.
A coming-of-age story that defines a young adult character’s push toward the new adult direction due to circumstances is what calls to me. I always feel empathetic to characters who find themselves doing things no one of their age is doing because they need to take up responsibilities. It’s a very personal checkbox for me but I strongly believe it heightens the empathy and realism of a story always.
We all make choices about people. Who we want to hold close, who we want to remain in our lives, and who we are just fine without.
And there’s so much more I can say to help you understand how much I loved this book but it’ll only make you pick up the book a second later and fairly, I don’t want you to spare even a second. Just pick this up and fall in love with one, if not all, the amazing aspects of this story.
Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this via my participation in a blog tour but that doesn’t, in any way, affect my rating and/or opinion. Thank you, Elizabeth Acevedo, HarperCollins International and the lovely organiser–Karina @AfirePages!
Follow along the blog tour schedule and check out all the amazing reviews!
Also, there are TWO International giveaways for a signed copy of With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo and an exclusive t-shirt inspired by the book (check out the designer here!) The giveaways are open until May 22nd so go on, enter asap!
Are you a fan of coming-of-age stories? Have you read books on teenage pregnancy or cooking? Have you read the other works of Elizabeth Acevedo? Let me know in the comments!
This post may contain affiliate links; to know more click here.
F A N N A