Book Review: WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH by Elizabeth Acevedo

Genre: Contemporary
Age Range: YA
Star Rating: 5 stars
Series: standalone

Synopsis:

Book cover for WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH; girl stares out of the purple cover surrounded by fruit

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. 

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

I rarely read contemporaries so had seen this book making the publicity rounds and basically ignored it as not for me. I wouldn’t have picked it up if I hadn’t been pushing myself to read outside my comfort zone and diversify my shelves.

I also probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much if I wasn’t reading it on a beach, and able to mostly read it in two sittings without thinking “I need to do X.” Sometimes I think an atypical day can be the perfect thing for getting into something different – and the sunny beach matched the hopeful warmth of this book.

Emoni does face a lot of challenges in this book, but the thing I took away most from it was how positive she was. Realistic, yes, but stayed hopeful throughout. WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is a book that made me feel warm and cosy, confident that there was a way to keep going and be cheerful in the world.

I knew Elizabeth Acevedo’s first book was in verse, which is not my cup of tea as I have a deep hatred of poetry in spite of (or perhaps because of) my English teacher/form teacher’s best efforts to instil a love of it into my class. (If I never see another Carol Ann Duffy poem in my life, it will be too soon.) This book isn’t in verse, which is why I selected WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH as my first Elizabeth Acevedo read.

The writing style feels very short, which helps pull out the imagery. The chapters themselves are no more than about five pages, with some only two, maybe three. Each are small scenes showing a snippet of Emoni’s life. Most obviously build towards some sort of climax, but not all. There were some that I felt might lead to one drama or other, but nothing came of them – which felt so realistic. The book isn’t so much a novel as a picture of someone’s life, with all the messy context and hints of future problems and forgotten threats that make up a real life.

And the food descriptions! I was so hungry after reading this book. So many amazing sounding dishes mentioned – I’d try some if I felt more confident in the kitchen cooking without a recipe.

I think I shall be trying out Elizabeth Acevedo’s other books sometime in the near(ish) future.

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