YA Review: With the Fire on High

Title: With the Fire on High
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

Emoni is Seventeen. She juggles school and work with taking care of her two-year-old daughter, and while she doesn’t feel supported by the father of her child or his family, she has her grandmother on her side. Emoni’s passion is cooking, and she dreams of being a chef. When she cooks, people fall in love with her food, and they swear she adds a touch of magic. Her dishes bring back wonderful memories for the people who eat them, and often move them to tears.

When a Culinary Arts course starts running at her school, Emoni signs up, but the discipline of the professional kitchen threatens to stifle her creativity. Will a class trip to Spain being her closer to her dreams, or will her friendship with the new student in the class distrct her from her responsibilities – and her talents?

This is an inspiring story. Emoni has many reasons to give up on her dreams – from the judgement of her classmates during her pregnancy to the demands of raising a child while studying and working to help pay the rent on her grandmother’s apartment, and the reality of learning to be a professional chef. She already knows she can cook, but she fails assignments because she adapts and improves the recipes. The teacher wants her to learn the basic rules, and doesn’t give her credit for her talent. Anyone with a gift for creative subjects will understand Emoni’s frustration with her teacher, and with the restrictions of a structured course. She is being asked to become a beginner in a subject at which she already excels, and while there are good reasons for learning the rules, it feels liek a rejection of her abilities.

I understood. I cried. I laughed with Emoni and her friends, and I smiled when her family showed their support. Emoni is a wonderful character – determined to own her responsibilites, determined not to be ashamed of her daughter, and utterly determined to follow her dreams. It’s a rollercoaster story, and there isn’t a neat, happy ending, but Emoni’s confidence and determination carry her through her challenges.

There’s a lot of love in this book: Emoni’s emotionally charged recipes; her tough, supportive grandmother; her best friend who knows exactly what to say; her love for her daughter; and her relationship with her own absent father. There’s love for culture and heritage, for food and traditions, and for community and family and friends. It’s a feel-good read with depth and spice – just like Emoni’s cooking.

Have you read With the Fire on High? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.

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