By Edith Bachmann
After reading The Poet X, I was so excited for Elizabeth Acevedo’s newest novel, With the Fire on High. I was worried it might not be as good as her other book, after all, The Poet X won the National Book Award as well as a Carnegie Medal. While With the Fire on High is not told in verse, it is an amazing book.
If you are not sold by the breathtakingly beautiful cover art, the plot is sure to draw you in. With the Fire on High tells the story of Emoni, a teenage mother who lives in Philadelphia and has a passion for cooking. She lives with her ‘Buela, who helps her take care of her daughter, who is nicknamed Babygirl. Emoni constantly has to make sacrifices for Babygirl and works hard to give her more opportunities. She wants Babygirl to have the best. Emoni Santiago is a senior now, so she can’t be wasting time dreaming of a life as a chef and take the culinary arts class her school is going to offer as an elective. Even more so, she can’t take that elective when she knows she doesn’t have the money for the trip to Spain the class takes in the Spring. Or can she? Uplifting, inspirational, and often mouthwatering, Acevedo has written a gorgeous novel.
First off, Elizabeth Acevedo has done a masterful job in creating her characters. Emoni Santiago has such a wonderful voice so you can’t help but listen, or rather, read on. You can’t help but root for Emoni as she faces life, head-on. I can only think of one book I have read where a teenage mother was featured, and I can’t think of a single book before this one where the teenage mother was the main character. Acevedo doesn’t glamourize it, or push it off to the side as some subplot. She confronts the struggles of having to put one’s child first, but also shows that having Babygirl wasn’t the end of Emoni’s life; she can still a good mother and follow her dreams. Babygirl is a key part of Emoni’s life and character development. As for Emoni’s supporting characters… one cannot help but fall in love with all of those who support Emoni. ‘Buela is strong, kind, and encouraging. She always supports Emoni and provides a safe, loving home. She’s like a rock for Emoni. ‘Buela has a heart of gold and was the one who raised Emoni to be the person she is today. Gelly, or Angelica is the best friend everyone wants. Gelly is independent, strong, outgoing, and pushes Emoni to follow her dreams. Malachi, the new boy at school, is kind and the type of guy you’d want to be friends with.
Another big bonus of the book is all the food featured. With recipes at the beginning of each part and the mouthwatering food that Emoni cooks, you will feel like you are right there in the kitchen with her. Emoni pours her heart into all the food she makes. Her cooking does what all chefs aspire to do, make people feel something. Overall, With the Fire on High is highly enjoyable and perfect when you need a feel-good read.