Published by Hardie Grant Egmont on May 7, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Diversity, Romance, Young Adult
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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.
Any novel about food automatically gets my attention and With the Fire on High not only grabbed my attention with its beautiful cover, but also the coming of age story and wonderful writing. The novel follows Emoni, a 17 year old who is juggling being a mother to her 2 year old daughter while trying to finish up her senior year of high school and figuring out what she wants to do and who she wants to be. It’s a powerful coming of age novel and perfectly blends discussions about culture and race, being a teen mother and food.
Here are five ingredients that I think made With the Fire on High an absolute gem of a book:
I mean, of course, I had to mention all of the foodie goodness in this novel. Emoni has a strong love and passion for food and has had the ability to create something magical every time she steps into the kitchen since she was a small child. Her dream is to attend culinary school and work in a professional kitchen, but she’s torn between what her heart wants and her obligation to provide for her daughter and family. When a culinary arts elective opens up at her high school, she finds that she can’t really step away from her destiny of being a chef and creating delicious food.
I loved all of the mentions of food in this book, and there were a lot! Every page of the book made me feel so warm and comforted and I’d read With the Fire on High over and over again just for this feeling.
2. Strong characters
Emoni was the highlight of the novel for me. Her character had a strong and distinct voice and I really connected with her story. She was wise beyond her years and I really enjoyed the complexity behind her character that made her feel like a real person who I wanted to be friends with. The side characters were perhaps slightly less strong but I still really got a great sense of their personalities and their back stories. I loved reading about Emoni’s abuela and Emoni’s fractured relationship with her father. Perhaps a little bit more focus could have been paid on the love interest and best friend but I honestly loved all of the characters.
3. The writing and format
With the Fire on High is written in very short chapters of 2-3 pages and the style really reminded of my favourite book of all time: All the Light We Cannot See. I absolutely love these vignette-like chapters and thought it worked really well for this novel, particularly the first half of it. I also really enjoyed the writing and thought that it had really great flow and was really easy to read.
4. The relationships
I loved the relationships between all of the characters and I also really enjoyed that there were no real villains or antagonists. I loved reading about Emoni’s relationship with her abuela, and also how they worked together to raise Babygirl. I also enjoyed seeing the relationship that Emoni had with Babygirl’s father who she’s no longer with but is in the picture in terms of parenting. And of course, I really appreciated her friendship with Angelica and how they always had each other’s backs no matter what. I’m on the fence about whether the romance in the book was necessary but I also loved that it was a very mature relationship where no promises were made to each other and they just let things play out naturally.
5. A sprinkling of cinnamon
You’ll have to read the book to get your own dose of love and cinnamon dust!
I absolutely loved With the Fire on High. It was a wonderful story of food, love and identity, and the writing was beautiful. I can’t wait to read Elizabeth Acevedo’s latest book, Clap When You Land.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
With the Fire on High is available at all Australian retailers for $19.99 RRP.
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