With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

October 18, 2019

Emoni is trying to finish high school, raise her baby girl, make money, plan a future and deal with her ex all at once. It’s a lot – especially when all she can focus on is cooking and creating new recipes. When Emoni gets the opportunity to go abroad and learn more about her culinary passion, she has to decide whether her time has come or if she has to put everyone else first again. With the Fire on High is a perfect title for Emoni’s story and it makes more and more sense as you read on.

Since this is a contemporary story with focus on character development, I won’t say much more about the plot. Let’s talk about our main character, Emoni, instead. If you’re a big fan of hers, maybe you shouldn’t read on. This won’t be pretty. Emoni looks at her peers and see little children with a lot to learn about life. They havent’ seen her troubles and they don’t know her struggles. I don’t like this judgemental view from characters who have been through tough experiences and think it makes them superior. Yes, you got it bad. Yes, it isn’t fair. Yes, you probably deserve more. But does that mean you’re better or stronger than everybody else? No.

If I haven’t made it crystal clear, I think Emoni is an arrogant and selfish girl. I’m sure we’re supposed to be sympathetic towards her situation but It’s a struggle. I feel sorry for old ’Buela instead, who can’t live her own life after all these years. Buela has already raised Emoni’s father and now has to help raise her granddaughter (and great-granddaughter). Emoni is always expressing concern for their money situation, yet she constantly buys special ingredients for her cooking hobby. She also plays the fake modesty game when she’s in cooking class. She knows how to make food so incredibly good that people weep, but she has to hold back to let the others learn and make the chef happy… really? Last time I rolled my eyes this hard was at America Singer.

But enough of the negativity. Let me tell you, the writing is amazing. It’s simple and easy to read (as a contemporary should be) but it’s also beautiful. Acevedo has a way with words that makes you feel and think about life. She’s excellent at portraying the underdogs who’s been cheated in life and need to find their own voices. The chapters are pretty short too, making you fly through the book.

We also get some fun side characters. I mentioned Buela, Emoni’s grandmother and “roommate”, who is stern but warm and friendly. Babygirl aka Emoni’s daughter is the cutest little thing. We also get the joy of Angela, the BFF, who came out as gay and is strutting her new life in pride. These characters are Emoni’s world and they’re great people. I won’t say more, as I feel like it would be spoilers.

So where does this leave my opinion of With the Fire on High? I love Acevedo as much as I hate Emoni and that makes it really hard to rate the story. However, it’s also fun to dislike characters. It makes you passionate about a book and sometimes it’s just nice to yell at fictional characters.

If you disagree with me and see Emoni or her story in a completely different light, please let me know. I love to discuss books and characters and always keep an open mind. You can also check out what other people thought of the book on Goodreads here: With the Fire on high GR page.

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Page count: 368
Goodreads rating: 4.2/5

If you want more Elizabeth Acevedo, I read The Poet X some time ago and was happily surprised. It’s written in verse, which is usually a hit or miss for me, but it was really good. You can check out my review of The Poet X here.

Thanks for reading this review and I’ll see you next time!
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