With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo (May 7) To Purchase From Your Local Bookstore*
Overview: Emoni Santiago has a lot on her plate. She has to help her grandmother around the house, get through senior year of high school, work, and care for her two year old daughter. She has dreams about being an executive chef, but that idea feels so far away sometimes. Even though she feels a bit mixed up inside, making food and putting her own spin on it gives her a much needed release. Overall: 4
Characters: 4 I loved the characters in this book and the family dynamics! Emoni has a complicated relationship with her family and others around her because of her life experiences. Her mother died during labor, so she's never known her. Her father dropped her off with her Abuela and fled back to Puerto Rico to find himself. With weekly phone calls and sporadic visits, Emoni is unsure how to feel about her father. Her grandmother, though, has always more than made up for the gaps in her life, and she has an email relationship with her mother's sister allowing Emoni to try some of her mother's family recipes and connect that way.
Emoni also has a two year old daughter, Emma. She loves Emma more than anything in the world, and she has fully internalized motherhood. Her world revolves around Emma even when she doesn't know what choices are best. Emma's father, Tyrone has left Emoni with trust issues, and the scrutiny of being a pregnant teen has made her weary of everyone except for her best friend, Angelica.
At school, new boy Malachi offers Emoni the taste of a regular high school relationship. He's quiet and attentive but persistent about being her friend, even though Emoni tries to shut everyone out. He's understanding of how Emoni's life is different in a way that most people aren't. Chef Ayden, who teaches the new culinary arts class, makes an amazing mentor for Emoni and offers her plenty of connections in the chef world to help her realize her dreams.
Plot: 4 There's a lot going on in this book, and it's all pretty great. Emoni navigates her family that raised her and the family she's building. She walks the tightrope between adulthood and teen life much closer to having to be an adult than most. She spends all of her time working or care taking. She has different priorities than her classmates. She even has to navigate custody times with Tyrone and deal with his condescending family.
I love how school, and culinary arts, gives Emoni a chance to chase her dreams for herself. She works through ups and downs with the class, and she takes on major leadership roles there. It's good to see her working toward a real goal. This collides with the other plot threads when she has to decide if college is worth the debt for her or if she wants to try pursuing her cooking dreams without a degree.
Writing: 4 Since The Poet X was a verse novel, I automatically assumed this would be too. Not sure why, but I was surprised to see real chapter-ish things. It's written in kinda chapters between 1 and 3 pages that are almost like little vignettes. Sometimes they don't linearly advance the story but dig deeper into a moment or give background. I loved the tiny snippets for the sense of accomplishment, and I feel like Acevedo did a wonderful job of developing and connecting so many elements and themes.
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