Goodreads: With the Fire on High
Published: May 2019
High school senior Emoni Santiago is magic in the kitchen. She can make food that brings back memories. Food that can make you cry. She dreams of opening up her own restaurant, but, with a two-year-old to care for, she knows dreams are luxuries she can’t afford. But her school has new culinary arts class, complete with an opportunity to cook in Spain. And, suddenly, Emoni can’t help but think of what could be.
In With the Fire on High, Elizabeth Acevedo introduces a fresh new voice in Emoni Santiago, a high school senior who dreams of going to school to become a chef–but who wonders if she should give up her dream to get a job and support her baby. Emoni’s struggles, her love for her family, her desire to do things that seem out of reach–it all combines to create a story where readers are sure to sympathize with Emoni and cheer her on as she tries to find what makes her happy. Fans of Elizabeth Acevedo, readers of contemporary YA, and lovers of magical realism will all find something to delight them in With the Fire on High.
One of the most notable aspects of Acevedo’s work is her beautiful prose. YA novels, especially those in the first-person, tend to be written simply and directly. YA novels that attempt “beautiful” prose often seem to end up with purple prose that may or may not appeal to readers. Acevedo’s prose, however, flows effortlessly. It has a musicality that makes it feel like it ought to be read aloud. She’s not trying to be deep or beautiful–she just is. And that is a rare and precious gift.
Also notable is Emoni’s voice. With the Fire on High is, like most YA novels these days, told in first-person. But Emoni sounds like a real teen, not an adult’s conception of what ‘the youth these days” sound like. And it’s not just in the way she phrases things. It can be heard in her concerns, her attitude toward school, her worries about the future. She isn’t looking at life through an adult’s lens, but through a high school senior’s. Acevedo has surely written a book that will make teen readers feel heard, seen, and valued.
The book isn’t all about the writing, however. The story itself is compelling, with Emoni wondering what to do after high school: attend college or get a job at a restaurant. The question of life after high school is, of course, perennial in teen books, but it feels particularly fresh and relevant here, with Emoni questioning if college is right for her, wondering if the adults in her life are too short-sighted and out-of-touch to realize not everyone has to or wants to go to school like they did. Emoni is constantly reminding readers that, as a teen mom, she has a unique position to consider, one not everyone seems to appreciate or understand.
Altogether, With the Fire on High is a compelling contemporary YA novel. Readers who enjoyed Acevedo’s last book will surely want to pick this one up, as well. But it will also appeal to readers looking for a YA book with a unique voice, a fresh perspective on life after high school, and beautiful prose that never has to try too hard.