My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Title: With the Fire on High
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Format: Hardcover (borrowed)
Categories: Coming of Age, Young Adult, Food, Romance, Teenage Parent, Contemporary
Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions—doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness.
Even though she dreams of working as a chef after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet despite the rules she thinks she has to play by, once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.
This book gave me the FEELS I wasn’t expecting! And yes, I may be a little biased because I was pleasantly delighted when finding out as I was reading it was set in North Philly (Philadelphia). My husband grew up just outside Philadelphia and my mother in law still lives there. I remember the North Philly area when my husband drove me around and yes even my hubby would tell me about how rough a neighborhood North Philly is. So I’m glad I got another view of it through this wonderful book! Plus look at that lush cover. 😍
Emoni Santiago is a teen mom making ends meet by working a part-time job and going to highs chool full-time. With the help of her grandmother, or abuela, and even help from her daughter’s father, it seems like she’s balancing things pretty good until the question of her future keeps bothering her. She wants to be a chef, but can she do college, raise a child, work and still reach her dreams? An opportunity arises in school that she just can’t pass up and she takes on more than she expected. Can Emoni rise to the challenge?
Emoni is pretty mature for a teenager because she’s had to grow up faster under her circumstances. She coparents with her ex-boyfriend but he only has their daughter for a few days so she’s the main parent most of the time. When dealing with her daughter’s father and his mom, she was very patient. The story covers a lot of Emoni’s internal struggles and questions – is she allowed to still dream big while caring for her child? What is the right path for her after graduation? She also has feelings about missing a mother she never knew and needing a father who doesn’t want to stay. Thank goodness she had her abuela to raise her and who helps raise her daughter Emma. And what about dating? Is it okay for Emoni to like someone else or because she’s a mom now, she’s not allowed? So many questions, some she can’t answer so what does she do – she cooks. She pours all of herself into her cooking and it has magical results for the people eating her recipes.
And not everything is impossible for Emoni in this story, it just seems that way but opportunities come to her. It was only about having the courage to take them. She has a chance to learn more about cooking through an elective at school and she also meets a boy, Malachi, who is a “friend-but not friend-but you know they are going to be more than friends”…and I was a such sucker for the author throwing in a reference to my favorite song from one of my favorite hip hop groups, The Roots…who is yes…from Philly. You got me. My heart melted at that. It’s a super cute slow burn romance for Malachi and Emoni.
This book felt way real to me. I grew up in the 90’s and it felt like teenage pregnancy was rampant around me. I grew up with friends and family who were teenage mothers and fathers. I saw my friends work and juggle going to school, many of them skipping college to go straight to a job. And I will say all of them are success stories! So I felt this book was realistic.
I think that’s why I love how happy this book made me feel in the end. Emoni has support from her abuela, her ex and in the end even her father comes through. And her best friend Angelica was amazing as well, giving her the emotional support she needed. There was LGBT+ representation in this book with Angelica and her girlfriend Lauren, cultural diversity with Emoni being Afro-Latinx and a whole lot of Philly love. (Go Eagles! 😁)
Overall this is a feel good story about food, family, courage, overcoming struggle, and going after your dreams and passions. I love this book!