By Medha Setia Opening Doorz Editorial | May 11, 2021

Book Review: With The Fire on High
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Rating: 4/5

With The Fire on High

Usually, when we imagine a teenage mother, we picture a girl who drops out of school to earn a living, sacrificing her dreams for her child. We picture someone who society frowns upon and is labelled an outcast.

Well, Elizabeth Acevedo in her book With The Fire on High takes us on a different type of journey with her character Emoni Santiago. Emoni is no ordinary teenage mother; she is a girl from Philadelphia who breaks all stereotypes.

With the Fire on High revolves around a seventeen-year-old girl, Emoni Santiago. The teenage mother is juggling between bringing up her two-year-old daughter, Emma, and finishing her last year at school. She always puts her baby girl first while still pursuing her dreams of becoming a professional Chef. Her life changes when her school offers new elective courses for seniors, which includes an elective she always desired— a Culinary Arts Course. However, this class also involves a trip to Spain towards the end of the course, for which she will have to pay!

Working towards becoming a Chef

Already working twice as hard as other students to keep her family’s financial boat afloat, Emoni is sure she will never be able to afford the trip. But the thought of learning from a Chef is too tempting for her not to attempt. So despite her heavy daily schedule, she manages to make time to be a part of the Culinary Arts Course.

In her class, although her mentor, Chef Adyen, often scolds her because she fails to follow instructions, he soon grows to be fond of her. Her creative ideas and passion for cooking are what brings the shift in his approach towards her He gives her a chance to organize and lead a fundraiser that would help reduce the cost of the trip to Spain.

The fundraiser turns out to be a mega-hit, yet Emoni is still short of funds and her dream to go to Spain seems to be fast fading away. Aunt Sarah appears like a fairy godmother when she wires her $300 so that she can fulfil her dreams and make her mother proud. 

Emoni, Tyrone, the party and Malachi

When Emoni met Tyrone at a freshmen party, she instantly fell for him. Their romance turned serious and before she knew it she was with a child. Tyrone never supported Emoni when his parents doubted her paternity. Bitter childhood memories of being abandoned by her father after her mother passed while giving birth to her and her painful experience with Tyrone, makes Emoni distrustful towards men until she meets Malachi. As the story progresses, Acevedo strings a beautiful relationship between the two.  

With The Fire on High
With The Fire on High is a must-read for every young woman.

Grappling with the day-care drop-offs, custody issues, Emoni never loses hope. She learns to change with time and takes up the responsibility of bringing up her daughter and at the same time supporting her Abuela (grandmother) through her old age. The only place she can let go of her troubles is in the kitchen. Cooking for Emoni isn’t just feeding her family but finding a connection with her late mother through the family’s generations-old recipes. 

Elizabeth Acevedo, a Dominican- American poet-cum-author, has written this book in straightforward prose, unlike The Poet X, her debut novel, which was in verse form. Her character in The Poet X, Xiomara only wants to fulfil her dreams and isn’t anchored by any relationships. Emoni, on the other hand, always tries to put forward what is best for her family. Both characters take us through the problems faced by teenagers and how they overcome their obstacles.

With The Fire on High contains the sour, savoury and bittersweet journey of Emoni on her way to becoming a Chef. Her intense desire and passion to nourish her soul and live her dreams are narrated by the author with easy charm. The simple yet complex life of Emoni and the descriptive writing style of Acevedo keeps the reader engrossed till the very end. The story and mouth-watering recipes kept lingering in my mind days after I finished savouring the book!

With The Fire on High has found a place amongst my favourites and is a must-read for every young woman.

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