If you like cute, easy-to-read contemporaries with a unique twist you are going to love With the Fire on High.
Emoni isn’t sure what she wants to do with the rest of her life. She would love to go to college, but the likelihood that she would be able to do that is slim. Not only are finances a problem, but Emoni is also responsible for her daughter Emma, who she affectionately calls Babygirl.
Emoni is a natural in the kitchen. Ever since she was little she has been adding her own personal touches to the food she creates, and people can’t get enough of her food. And she is lucky enough to go to a charter school (I am Canadian, what is a charter school anyway?) that has programs for cooking. There is even a trip to Spain, if Emoni can raise enough money to go.
There are so many contemporary books about falling in love, deciding what to do with the rest of your life and finding help in unexpected places, but there aren’t too many books that also include teen moms. Things that most kids have to deal with as they consider college are much more high-stakes for Emoni, who not only has to think about her future, but also that of her daughter. Financial problems are way more urgent, and little things like who she decides to date and bring around her daughter have a lot more importance.
With the Fire on High also manages to avoid a lot of the cliches that you might expect from a book with a teen mom. For one thing, Emoni being a teen mom isn’t the center of her character, it’s one aspect of her life, and it’s not something she resents. For another, being a mother isn’t the focus of the story. She has a lot of support from her grandmother and her best friend.
I was less of a fan of her father, Julio, who basically dropped his daughter off at her grandmother’s as a baby, moved home to Puerto Rico and never looked back. He pops into Emoni’s life every once in while, but he’s almost no help to her, even after his granddaughter is born. He’s also more concerned with taking care of his community than his daughter. Overall, I thought Emoni had the right to be a lot angrier at him than she was in the book.
I loved that With the Fire on High had diverse cast of characters from different backgrounds and experiences. I loved the way it handled the plot and I loved the way Elizabeth Acevedo talks about food and the way Emoni creates her magic.
I found myself speeding through With the Fire on High; it was an easy read and a nice palette cleanser from the darker stuff I’ve been reading lately, without being absolute fluff. I would even be interested in reading a sequel about her daughter as a teenager or even a 10 years later from Emoni’s perspective.
Now I am off to try one of the recipes in the book, because I’m hungry.