“With the Fire on High”: by Elizabeth Acevedo. Harper Teen. 2019. 388 pages.
This is the newest title from award winning author, Elizabeth Acevedo. “With the Fire on High”is a tale of teen motherhood and the decisions that must be made to become who you are called to be.
The story opens with a recipe, “Emoni’s When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon Verbena Tembleque”. Emoni Santiago is an Afro-Latinx teen from North Philly. To many her life has been a lot of lemons, from her mother’s death during childbirth, subsequently being abandoned by her father, to her pregnancy freshman year and now raising a child on her own. Being raised by her grandmother, ‘Buela, who needs help with the bills. Emoni is being pulled in many directions.
She stays grounded by the love of her friends and family, her love for her daughter, Emma, and her love of cooking. She does not have the knowledge or training of a chef, but she has a true instinct for what makes great food. She can create or add to a dish that makes it unique and unforgettable. Her dishes become magical, bringing up emotions and memories to the recipient that can cultivate joy or sadness.
When Emoni’s senior year starts a new elective is offered, Culinary Arts, with a possible trip to Spain at the end of the year! She is drawn to this class because of her connection with food, but her practical side sees that it could be her downfall with motherhood, school, a job, and the outlook of college all looming around her. With encouragement from “Buela and her best friend Angelica, she takes the class. When the realities set in of what learning to cook means Emoni must let go and learn to follow someone else rules, open herself up to failure, and to become her own leader to discover her most important recipe yet: Emoni’s Idea of Success.
This story is written in lyrical prose of a Philly teen that envelopes the reader with the approach of cozy comfort food with a helping of the no sugar coating truths that a story like this should have. This is not a fairytale or far-fetched fantasy of how teen parenting is easy, it feels like a real account of a teen that took on the challenge, held her head high through adversity and came out on the sweeter side of life. With the Fire on High is a refreshing take on topic from a point of view that is not often covered by the YA genre. Using a voice that speaks to all generations about our society’s view on teen motherhood with the assumption that you can never reach your full potential fighting against these odds and then does just that. This is a satisfying read that many can enjoy.
Written by Alexis Vivian Littell, Branch Manager of North Park Library. To contact her email firstname.lastname@example.org.