Title: With the Fire on High
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genre: young adult contemporary
My Rating: ★★★★☆
This review is spoiler-free.
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 worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet despite the rules she thinks she has to play by, once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.
[ This synopsis is from Goodreads. ]
When I first heard about this story at a book conference, I was instantly hooked. A girl who basically had the magic touch with food? Sounds really interesting to me! Despite my interest, I haven’t been able to finish the book up until recently, and I’m so glad I took the time to.
One thing that I loved about this book is the little sprinkling of real-world magic that the author put into the story. It’s not like Emoni has magical powers that helps her cook, but there something innate in her that allows her to know which spices and flavors to mix to make an amazing meal. Not only that, she can express her emotions through her food, and often the people who eat her food are reminded of personal memories related to that emotion. She’s a gem hidden in a haystack.
Speaking of food, the imagery in this book was on point! I haven’t tried many of the foods that were featured in this story but I could easily imagine what they would taste like because the imagery was so descriptive. Make sure you have a snack with you while you’re reading this book because you are bound to get hungry!
I love how the author doesn’t gloss over the hardship of motherhood (not that I understand anything about being a mother). Emoni has to make many sacrifices and hard decisions to help her daughter and grandmother stay afloat. At the same time, she’s still a teenager and wants to do teenager things. She juggles motherhood and being a high school student relatively okay all things considered, but the journey was not without its struggles.
I also love the message of how passion can get you far, but hard work and dedication can get you that extra mile. The impossible dreams are achievable if you’re willing to put in the elbow grease to make it happen. This book is also very much a making-lemonade-out-of-lemons story. Emoni has mean in-laws, her baby’s father can be annoying, she has some problems with her own father, she needs to work to put food on the table, her grandmother keeps on visiting the doctor’s but won’t tell her why, she faces judgement from her classmates, and she’s not sure she can go to Spain as part of a cooking class because her budget is tight. All these things are stacked up against her, but Emoni faces them with her head held high.
Overall, this is an amazing story that I recommend to anyone, even if you don’t like contemporary novels. It’s worth a read. Trust me.
Emoni “Santi” Santiago
She’s up there with the most badass protagonist alongside Aelin Ashryver from Throne of Glass and the squad from the Illuminae Files.
Malachi (pronounced Mal-ah-kye)
*insert Emoni’s dreamy sigh here*
Strict but practical.
I give With the Fire on High 4 out of 5 unicorn horns. I don’t normally read contemporary novels, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one! Highly recommend!
Until next time….