Book Review: With The Fire on High

Young woman of color on book cover
ISBN: 9780062662842
Published: March 30, 2021
Page Count: 416
Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions—doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Even though she dreams of working as a chef after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not…

Just like the words of a poem can move you, Elizabeth Acevedo in her book, With the Fire on High, reminds us of how food can also tap into our souls bringing out tearful memories or delightful joy.  Reading through this story, you feel Acevedo’s Poetic voice, rhythmically leading you through the life of Emoni Santiago, a teen mom who has been raised by her grandmother.

“What would I do without ‘buela? She’s the starch in my spine.”

Being a Senior in High School, the pressure is on for Emoni to graduate, go to college and know what she wants to be; with the added responsibilities of being a single parent. Readers cannot help but want her to succeed with resilience against all that could potentially hold her back.

Acevedo, touches on many hardships throughout these pages. Including topics on parental loss, parental absenteeism, teen pregnancy, racial indifferences and socio-economic barriers. All of these difficult subjects are explored through the eyes of a teenager and Acevedo does an excellent job at portraying her characters in a realistic light. Being an adult, reading this Young Adult novel, I was still able to connect with the characters with a lens of hindsight. For young adult readers (13+), they will also be able to connect with the characters, since what is happening in the story can very well be what happens in real life. Although, this is a great read, I would not recommend this for my young teen, due to the brief sexual content, it might be more appropriate for the older high schooler.

What I absolutely feel in love with in this book, was Emoni’s talent in the kitchen! Not only does she have a deep appreciation for food, but she is able to evoke emotion from those who consume her dishes. The story of her pursuing her dream to cook is beautiful and makes you want to jump in the kitchen and put your heart on a plate. Every time food is described in the story, you cannot help but to hunger for more. Who wouldn’t want to taste her chocolate pudding with paprika spice, fried green tomatoes dredged in panko and paired with queso frito and basil, or rabbit with harrisa, rice with mushrooms, rich with saffron, and her tembleque!

“When you cook you are giving people a gift.”

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