Book Review: With the Fire On High

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Synopsis

With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness.

Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.”

-Synopsis from Goodreads

Review

*spoilers ahead*

I don’t even know where to begin with this book. It was That. Good.

I first heard about With the Fire on High here on WordPress. Bloggers started reviewing it a few months ago and after reading the synopsis, I decided I had to read it, too. It took a while, but I managed to scoop it up in my library haul last week.

Emoni is such a likable character. From the very beginning, I wanted to see her succeed. Not only is she a caring and devoted mother to her young daughter, but she has a real talent for cooking and has big dreams.

Emoni’s story is told through vignettes that share snippets of her life, including the big things like negotiating visitation between her daughter and her ex, Tyrone, and the little things, like chatting with her abuela in the kitchen or her best friend Angelica during lunch at school. We get to peek into her past and see how she meet Tyrone, and also learn about her parents and her family. Emoni’s world is complicated, but in many ways it’s a universal type of complicated.

It was inspiring to see how she navigated everything coming her way. Both her abuela and her daughter, Emma, keep her grounded, and everyone around her cares enough to encourage her to spread her wings and take chances when the opportunities arise.

The story fast forwards through Emoni’s senior year of high school, from the beginning all the way to graduation. I was so glad that we got to see not only how Emoni and her culinary arts class raised the money for their school trip, but to also follow them on their adventure to Spain. Emoni’s talents in the kitchen make her stand out from the other students from day one, and she has plenty of offers from respected chefs to work in their kitchens after she graduates.

I was torn about Emoni’s college decisions. While I personally am all for higher education, I think it really depends on the person and their situation at the time. I was so happy that Emoni figured out a way to both attend school part-time and work for Chef Williams in Philadelphia. She was truly able to achieve the best of both worlds in a way that makes sense for herself and her family.

This story was so beautifully told and the writing was exquisite. When I was about 50 pages in, I knew this had a good chance of being one of my favorite books of the year and after finishing it, I am certain that it will be. After reading this book, I immediately put Elizabeth Acevedo’s first book, The Poet X, on hold at the library and I can’t wait to read it soon.

I highly recommend this book for both teens, young adults, and adults alike.

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