TITLE: With the Fire on High AUTHOR: Elizabeth Acevedo GENRE: young adult fiction PUBLISHER: Harper Collins YEAR: 2019 PAGE COUNT: 388
With the Fire on High is about Emoni Santiago, an Afro-Latina high school senior living in Philadelphia with her grandmother and two-year-old daughter. Emoni loves to cook and is naturally talented in the kitchen, so when the opportunity to take a cooking class at school arises, she’s elated. Much to her surprise and frustration, the class presents her with as many challenges as it does opportunities and forces Emoni to consider the sacrifices she’d need to make to pursue a career as a chef. While trying to pass her classes, apply for college, and co-parent with her ex, Emoni meets someone who makes her consider letting down the walls she’s built up from years of being shamed and left behind by those who claim to love her. As the end of her senior year looms closer, she finds herself caught between doing what is expected of her and what will make her truly happy.
I loved this book SO much! Elizabeth Acevedo is an incredible writer and does such a good job of creating complex, multi-faceted characters with so much heart and depth. I read her first book, The Poet X, last year and really enjoyed it, but not quite as much as With the Fire on High.
I loved the character of Emoni so much. For all of her self-doubt, she’s also very strong and sure of what she believes in. She doesn’t have time for shame or other people’s negative opinions. She creates her own way forward and learns to listen to her own needs and desires. She doesn’t follow the path of what she “should” be doing. It was so refreshing to have a character who knows her worth and bucks stereotypes at every turn. She’s a teen mom of color, but she carries both her motherhood and her race with pride. She is the kind of character I wish I had read when I was a teenager.
With that being said, I am so grateful I read this book when I did. Emoni’s story and her struggle to understand her place in the world resonates with me so much. While I’m ten years old than Emoni is, I relate to what she’s feeling. I’ve been unemployed since March and have no idea what’s next and it’s really been getting to me. I sometimes feel like there’s no place for me and that I have nothing to offer. Reading Emoni’s story reminded me that I do, and that it’s ok for me to dream. I don’t have to shrink myself.
With the Fire on High shows that we don’t have to follow society’s expectations. I’m in my late twenties and I don’t have my career figured out, I’m not married, I don’t have kids or a house. I don’t even have a job. I feel pressure to do and have all these things and I sometimes feel like I’m falling behind. But I don’t want to follow a blueprint. I want to create a life that makes sense for me and what I need and want. I want to be like Emoni.
This book kept surprising me the whole way through. I kept predicting things that never came true. It would have been so easy for Acevedo to follow stereotypes and norms with this story, but she didn’t. She wrote a story of joy and love, where a teen mom is supported by family and teachers, where an LGBTQ character finds love and happiness, where Black girls can succeed and be happy.
This book is beautiful and full of so much heart and joy. If you need to be lifted up, definitely give this a read.