Emoni Santiago has a lot to work for – her school grades, her 3 year-old daughter, helping her grandma run the house and maintaining a cordial relation with the father of her child. But despite the wearisome nature of her days, there is one thing that helps soothe all her worries. Emoni’s very soul speaks the culinary language, prompting her to take to the kitchen every time there’s something on her mind. Now that an opportunity has come her way to go on a trip and display her talents as a chef, would her obligations permit her to be true to herself?
Elizabeth Acevedo preserves the richness of Emoni’s culture and story through the dialogues and analogies in this novel. The plot consists of some common themes like teen pregnancy, financial deprivation, parental negligence, but what makes this novel memorable is the heartfelt way in which the story has been told. Emoni’s voice is so unabashed and uplifting. There is no sense of regret about the state of affairs in her life and she takes everything that comes her way in good stride.
Emoni and her abuela (grandma) are so fiercely protective of their family. They work together to make each other’s lives better. I was surprised to read about how mature Emoni is, considering the fact that she is a 17 year old, who never even got to live her childhood properly, what with her father being MIA and she getting pregnant at an early age. But that doesn’t deter her from being a responsible mother and a considerate granddaughter.
I was kind of on the fence about Malachi being introduced as the typical good-looking guy, who makes the protagonist laugh and gets into her good graces. I wasn’t sure whether I’d like the insta-love. But suffice it to say that Malachi’s character has been sketched as quite the gentleman, with a good upbringing. And ultimately, you can’t deny that he plays a positive role in Emoni’s life and brings a sense of playfulness to the story.
Interspersed with Emoni’s own recipes, With The Fire On High is every budding chef’s dream. One of the things I appreciated about the storytelling is that unlike other novels, the protagonist, despite being talented, doesn’t have it easy. We are not reading a story about Emoni’s guaranteed success. There are moments in the book when we don’t even know if she is going to get a happy ending or not. This unpredictability coupled with the conflicts that Emoni faces kept up the pace of the novel and I was glued to it.
On the whole, I LOVED reading this recent release by Elizabeth Acevedo. I know that I’m now going to pick up everything the author ever writes, because her writing is so filled with life, that it has the ability to sweep you off your feet. This is easily one of my top reads of 2019, so I can only hope that you will not miss out on the chance to read it.
★ ★ ★ ★ .5