With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo // Review

Alright, I’m going to do my best reviewing this book because thing 1) I’m not Afro-Puerto Rican so I don’t know that life and thing 2) I don’t have any children.

Not to say you need either to read this book. I’m just saying this perspective won’t be as nuanced as someone who may #ownvoices this book. But as the general public who loves to read authors of color, I’m glad this book exists.

Let’s get started:

This is the story of young Emoni, a 17-year-old teen who’s about to enter her final year of high school and embarking on the next part of her journey. However, she’s also a single mom living with her grandmother and desperately trying to make ends meet. She’s constantly berated by the other students at school for her status as a teen mom and her life decisions need to include her baby. When her school offers a culinary course for the first time, Emoni is super excited. She loves food and cooking and has a knack for flavors and spices. However, the class also offers a week in Spain and Emoni hasn’t left her kid’s side since she had her. She can see herself pursuing a career in culinary arts, but also needs to consider her daughter and their struggle to stay afloat.

Wow, I mean, this story discusses some big themes. I think one of the biggest themes is being a young mother. I don’t think I’ve read any YA stories with teen mothers, but it really was interesting to read. Many decisions Emoni needed to make also required the addition of her daughter. She wanted to go to college, but she needs to find a school close to her. She’s about to go on a trip to Spain and she needs to figure out how to manage that. She’s interested in someone romantically, but she needs to be mindful of her daughter’s feelings before introducing him to her. So many of her decisions were based on very adult and mature thinking. Emoni doesn’t do anything impulsively…until she gets into the kitchen. I also really loved that Elizabeth showed life as a young mother. Emoni has to juggle school, work, and taking care of her baby. I know many moms from my old job and it was difficult to juggle work and taking care of their baby, so I couldn’t imagine what it’s like for someone who’s still trying to graduate high school.

Another big theme is the prejudice, discrimination, and racism Emoni faces everyday. She’s ridiculed because she can’t speak Spanish well. She doesn’t look “black” enough. She’s taunted because she had a daughter at such a young age. People think she’s “easy” because she had sex early. I loved that Elizabeth Acevedo brought up these points because it really brings the story to reality. And the best part is that it’s mostly micro-aggressions. You don’t ever hear someone straight up calling her the N word or telling her to go back to her country, but it’s there. You see it in the way people ask their questions or even the pursed lips of an older woman on the bus. These micro-aggressions are what many people of color face (myself included). It’s the wrong question or a comment you don’t know what to respond with. You may not think it’s racism because it doesn’t blind you in the face with words, but that silent judgment is enough to make a good day into a bad one.

I think what I loved the most is how much Emoni loves her daughter. She tries to juggle school and homework and an after-school job and her friendships while getting home in time to spend time with her kid. While Emoni has the attitude of a teenager sometimes, many of her decisions are considered thoroughly (through the pros and cons) and mature. And all the while she’s still learning and observing and becoming more enriched. It was most definitely a coming-of-age story, but one many adults can get behind because it reminded me a lot of post-graduate me. This girl’s got it all figured out before she finishes high school and I’m still struggling.

Finally, the food! OMG when I heard that this book will also be about food and cooking, I was already intrigued. The story includes a couple of recipes for you to try and it also convey’s Emoni’s personal culinary expertise which I thought was so great. I kind of wish there was more descriptions of food. For example, what does the risotto taste like to Emoni? How did she feel trying tapas in Spain? I would have loved those descriptions to be richer.

What I absolutely love about Elizabeth Acevedo’s writing is that it isn’t complicated. She embodies Emoni’s voice and personality and doesn’t break for a minute. I absolutely love writing like this because it feels real. It feels like you’re reading from the actual perspective of the character with their specialized language. I loved the nicknames she had for her friends and family. I loved that she called her daughter Babygirl, but unafraid to bring out her legal name when she’s in trouble. The writing is most definitely a draw and keep you fully immersed in the story.

I think the only issue I had with this book is that everything seemed to resolve itself at the end. I don’t want to say it was easy and there were some things that will probably take time to heal (like forgiving her father or working together with her baby daddy), but many issues just kind of happily ended.

Aside from that, it’s a great story about a young person’s decisions for the next part of life. I think this book works for anyone between the ages of 17-35 because I’m 34 and I’m still struggling to figure everything out.

I received a copy of this book from Epic Reads for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

5 thoughts on “With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo // Review

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