Book review: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Title: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Publisher: HarperTeen

Publication date: 7 May 2019

Genre: Contemporary| Young Adult

Page extent: 400 pages

Goodreads blurb: 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.

Firstly, this book was my first try out of Australia’s inter-library loan service and I am seriously impressed by just how well and quickly it went! Secondly, what a book!! This was firey and delicious and I just want to eat so much food now. 

With the Fire on High tells the story of teen mum, Emoni, as she juggles her studies, her love of cooking, parenthood and the dreaded question of what to do with her future. In her last year of high school, a new elective opens at her school, a cooking class with a trip to Spain. But Emoni, willing to give up her love of cooking to support her child and grandmother, doesn’t know whether to follow her dreams or not.

This book is so brilliant, with such a fantastic MC I can’t even describe.  Emoni is just wonderful. This book really portrays a teen in a way I don’t think has often been shown in YA I’ve read recently. Emoni is so responsible and just a brilliant mum. She accepts all of her competing responsibilities and really works her butt off with school, a part time job, as well as looking after her daughter. She has desires and dreams but knows that everything comes second to making sure her kid is healthy and safe and loved. She is so absolutely brilliant and I adore her. Throughout the story, Emoni refers lots to what people assume and think about her because she had a child so young, but she constantly fights to break these stereotypes and show both the characters in the book, and the reader themselves, who she really is.

“I’ve had a lot of things to feel ashamed about and I’ve learned most of them are other people’s problems, not mine.” 

It’s really clear Elizabeth Acevedo has a poetry background, because the language and style of the writing is just absolutely beautiful. It constantly conjures so many images and emotions and is so poetic. I loved the addition of the recipes at the start of each section and will of course totally try making them all because they sound delicious! 

I thought the secondary characters were as well thought out and developed as Emoni. Malachi, the boy who Emoni doesn’t want to fall for but finds herself liking more and more; Angelica, her fierce, lesbian friend who is so supportive and a brilliant artist; Tyrone, the father of Emoni’s daughter, who I disliked so much for all the reasons why he was so realistic – a man who cheats and spends time with girls but of course Emoni can’t spend any time with a boy at all. And of course, Emoni’s parental figures. Her absent father, someone who we can never really forgive for his absence despite his loss, and her grandmother, who has raised Emoni and has supported her throughout her pregnancy.

This was just a beautiful book with so many unique characters and a poetically delicious prose. With such a hopeful and positive message, it is no wonder the rights to a screen version have already been bought!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco