Book Review

Book Review: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (sooooo good!)

Take a 17-year-old high school senior who’s half Black and half Puerto Rican and a brilliant natural cook, add in an absent father, a protective grandmother, the normal demands of high school, and a job, then throw in a 3-year-old daughter and divided custody with an ex-boyfriend, and what have you got? An explosive, vibrant, spicy blend of drama and high emotions that moves like a hurricane and seduces like a rumba.

With the Fire on High is the latest book by Elizabeth Acevedo and I am a huge, huge fan of this story. Emoni Santiago has dreams of being a chef. After all, the kitchen is where she excels, where her hands and senses magically know what to do with food and spices to create a dish that will make you feel you’ve gone to heaven. But the path to that goal is paved with so many obstacles. She loves her daughter, Babygirl, with the fierceness of a lioness and hates being away from her. Her fast-food job barely pays for the monthly expenses. Her ex-boyfriend, the father of her child, is a thorny irritant. And aside from the lack of money, Emoni is not the greatest student, so college seems out of the question.

Elizabeth Acevedo takes the reader on a wild cruise around the emotional islands of Emoni’s life. The chapters are short—just 2 or 3 pages—yet they offer meticulous glimpses into the difficult issues that Emoni faces. Incorporating Black slang, Spanish phrases, and teenage angst, Emoni’s character leaps off the page with vitality. The writing is fresh and witty with such imaginative phrasing that had me constantly pausing and thinking wow!—I love that! I was hungry for the food, hungry for Emoni to find her way, hungry for her to receive the love and support and encouragement to reach for her dream.

Be prepared for a love affair. Dish up some pernil and arroz and maduros. With the Fire on High will sweep you up in its wake and cast you on the shore of richness and fulfillment.