Review: Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High Should Be Your Next Hot Read

Elizabeth Acevedo serves up a tender and warm story in With the Fire on High.

Hello, book friends! This week I picked up a sizzling hot read: Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High. I adored Acevedo’s The Poet X and how it creatively formed a narrative through poetry. So I’ve been jonesing to pick up a copy of With the Fire on High, which I predictably loved! The story follows Emoni Santiago, an Afro-Puerto Rican teenage mother and talented cook who lives with her ‘Buela and daughter Emma. With a full schedule of classes and a job at The Burger Joint, Emoni only wants to get through senior year and care for her family — but along the way, her life catches up to her. She finds the possibility of a career as she takes a culinary course at school as well as a budding romance with a transfer student named Malachi.
There’s no straightforward plot, so to speak, but Acevedo takes so much care to make Emoni’s world matter. Whether it’s fundraising for a trip to Spain, going on a shaved ice date, or spending a low-key Thanksgiving with her ‘Buela, each moment with Emoni is so rich and delicious. We get a strong sense of who she is — a tough, but tender young woman who’s pulled in multiple directions by her complicated love for her family and her passion for cooking. As the book progresses, she puts her pride aside and allows herself to dream bigger. Her relationships with her grandmother, father, and child’s father stretch and grow with challenges along the way.
What I love most about With the Fire on High is how distinct each character feels — each with a rhythm and personality of their own that fits into the protagonist’s life. Emoni’s best friend Angelica is a blunt and prickly artist with a heart of gold. ‘Buela is stern yet loving, the mother figure who seemingly has it all together but subtly reveals vulnerabilities beneath the surface. Malachi emerges as kind and straightforward, carrying himself in both an earnest and laid-back manner.
Taking us head first into a world replete with love, the book embraces passion and family without coming off as corny or contrived. With the Fire on High is a character-driven delight — the said character being Emoni, who buoys the story with her big heart and clear sense of self.

You can buy a copy of With the Fire on High on Bookshop.org.

Grade: 8-12
Published: 2019

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