With the Fire on High follows Emoni Santiago, an Afro-Puerto Rican teen mother, during her senior year of high school. She has always dreamed of being a chef, and this is the story of her finding out what she wants from her life through her Culinary Arts class. It’s a story about learning to believe in yourself and taking the steps to pursue your dreams even though they feel impossible; about finding a balance between your interests and needs and those of the people around you.
I loved every moment of it.
I loved it for Emoni’s character arc, her growth, for how she learns to believe in herself and make difficult choices about her future. I’m two years older than her, and making this kind of choices is still really anxiety-inducing; I can’t imagine how it would be to have to do that while dealing with the college application process in the US, which sounds like a nightmare.
I loved it for how it talked about the link between food and culture and memory, which is a topic I love to read about, and that matters a lot to me and that I’d love to see more of in books. I had never read of a main character who loved to cook as much as Emoni does, especially not in a book with the smallest maybe-magical twist (Emoni’s food awakens memories in other people and she has a sense for what a dish needs) and it was so refreshing. Also, I loved the inclusion of recipes. Be careful, though – apart from the recipes, the descriptions of food in the story itself are perfect and this is the kind of book that will make you hungry.
Another thing I appreciated was how this book portrayed a romantic relationship in which the love interest had no problem with waiting, with taking things slow, because Emoni needs that after the failure that was her previous relationship. She has responsibilities that the average teenager doesn’t have, as well – babygirl – and that also changes the whole dynamic. While I love reading about messy romances with complicated sides, showing that relationships like this can exist is important.
However, I wish the book had developed Malachi a little more. I did like him, but I never got a sense of who he was as a person apart from being a good boyfriend for Emoni.
Of the side characters, my favorite was Angela – she’s a lesbian and now also in a relationship and I loved her and Emoni’s dynamic, it felt real to me.
Overall, this was a beautifully written and heartwarming read that also encouraged me to learn a little more about my family’s recipes and cooking in general, so I really recommend it.
My rating: ★★★★¾
Acqua and Cooking
For an Italian, I know embarrassingly little about it. Because of past circumstances we’re not going to get into, my cooking skills pretty much stop at “how to hard-boil an egg”, and this book reminded me just how much I’d like that to change. I want to be able to do something more by myself, and I want to learn to cook like my family does. (I’m sure there are many great and easy recipes for beginners on the internet, but this isn’t only about the food.)
When I was eleven, I tried to convince my grandmother to teach me some of her recipes, which I still have written down. I never got around to actually trying them myself, and eight years later (and with help, of course), here we are:
This is called “pesce serra in zuppa“. I’m not sure how to translate that. “Pesce serra” is the Italian common name for Pomatomus saltatrix, known in English as “bluefish”, so this would be “bluefish in soup” if translated literally, but I don’t think this is the kind of thing people think when they hear the word “soup”. Anyway, it was good, so that’s something.
Have you read any of Acevedo’s books?