With the Fire on High
Published May 7, 2019
About With the Fire on High
With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness.
Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.
It’s probably weird that the first book by Elizabeth Acevedo that I’ve read is the one that isn’t a novel in poetry? I usually gravitate toward those, and I do have hard copies of both THE POET X and CLAP WHEN YOU LAND, but somehow I wound up reading this one first. (Truthfully it happened because I needed to sit in my littlest’s room to make sure she didn’t sneak out of bed, and I needed something to read from my phone.)
I loved Emoni right from page one. Her experience cooking and her understanding of it, her love and instinctive approach all had me spellbound. I loved that everyone has such an emotional experience eating her cooking, too. It’s not quite magical realism, but it made the story feel bigger than just contemporary.
The journey Emoni takes in learning to go beyond cooking by instinct and how to sort of put that together with cooking as part of a team was really powerful and felt so realistic. I wanted to try all her recipes and visit an unusual upscale restaurant to try dishes with unusual pairings (though we are not eating at restaurants right now… someday!).
Also, and many people have already said this, I appreciated her experience as a young, single mom. She tries to do all the right and admirable things. She knows the stakes are high, for herself and for her daughter. I love that she consistently puts Emma first, and that her challenge is learning how to be a mom without limiting herself to being just a mom.
Her relationship with ‘Buela also totally got me. The protectiveness on both sides. The love. I never doubted ‘Buela’s role as the parent in the relationship, and it’s so clear that it’s not easy for her, but she loves her family so much.
On the whole, this is a phenomenal book. I love it so much, and I feel like this is one I might read again soon, just to experience it all again. I absolutely recommend it to anyone who enjoys cooking or stories about following your dreams.
Recommended for Ages 14 up.
Emoni is Black and Puerto Rican. Her best friend is Black and a lesbian.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used infrequently. Emoni doesn’t like anyone swearing near her daughter, and she tries very hard not to swear at all.
Some references to Emoni and her ex having sex. She also talks about how once people know she has had a child, they sometimes treat her a certain way. With men, sometimes this means treating her like she will have sex with anyone, which isn’t how she is. A couple scenes show a boy and girl kissing. One scene shows them taking off shirts and touching and references them doing more, but doesn’t describe.
Malachi mentions that he has studied Islam.
Emoni and her friends visit a bar in Spain. It’s legal for them to drink there, but against the agreement in the field trip forms they’ve signed. A couple students get very drunk. One girl gets sick and is super embarrassed about her behavior later. Emoni does not drink alcohol.
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