With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Copyright Date: 2019
Reading Age: 13-17
Reading Level: Grades 8-9
Awards: Golden Kite Award for Young Adult Fiction, Audie Award for Narration By The Author,
The Amelia Bloomer Book List
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Fiction
Emoni brings magic into the kitchen. She instinctively knows what spices will bring out the complexities of each dish. If cooking were her only responsibility, that would be enough, but when Emoni was a freshman in high school, she got pregnant. Now she juggles being a mother on top of being a high school student and working a part-time job. When she chooses a cooking elective because it is her passion as opposed to a safe business-oriented class, will she be able to justify the choice to her grandmother and Babygirl as well as herself? Emoni has never shirked hard work, and she is about to find out just how challenging professional cooking can be.
Through lyrical prose interspersed with delicious-sounding recipes, Elizabeth Acevedo takes readers on a journey of growing up set in a high school culinary course. Emoni loves many things—her daughter, her grandmother, her distant father—but her only true passion is cooking. One of the best aspects of the story is how normal Emoni's life is even though she is a young mother. There is no moralizing about the fact that she had a child as a teen. While she may think about how her life would be different if she had not have gotten pregnant, the character loves her child and celebrates Babygirl's existence in her day to day experiences. Emoni is a great example of how a person can have many responsibilities and still find joy and fulfillment. Unlike the Poet X, this story is written in prose, but the cadence of the sentence structure flows almost like it is poetry or song, lending it to pleasurable listening as an audiobook as well as enjoying it in its print form. The characters are fleshed out well, and even those not in the main focus of the story are people readers finds themselves caring for. This is a book about a teen discovering what she wants out of life. It is also a book about cooking, and the recipes included in each section of the book emphasize that well.
Emoni has always loved to cook. Some of her first memories are of cooking, so when she is accepted into a culinary class, can she juggle it, working a part-time job, and being a single mother in order to make her dreams come true?
About the Author
ELIZABETH ACEVEDO is the New York Times-bestselling author of The Poet X, which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Michael L. Printz Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the Carnegie medal, the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, and the Walter Award. She is also the author of With the Fire on High—which was named a best book of the year by the New York Public Library, NPR, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal—and Clap When You Land, which was a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor book and a Kirkus finalist.
She holds a BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. Acevedo has been a fellow of Cave Canem, Cantomundo, and a participant in the Callaloo Writer’s Workshops. She is a National Poetry Slam Champion, and resides in Washington, DC with her love.
(Author photo and About from here.)
Discuss the book while preparing a meal in the kitchen.
Talk about a challenge that at the time seemed insurmountable but that now seems like an important aspect of your life. Connect this challenge to Emoni's own struggles of trying to be a good mother while also being a good high school student.
Challenge issues: LGBTQIA+, underage drinking, teen pregnancy
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With the Fire On High discusses something that used to be a taboo subject, and still is in some places—teen pregnancy. It discusses it in an unapologetic way and shows that one mistake, even a big one, doesn't have to derail an entire life. Emoni has made decisions in the past that have changed the trajectory of her life, and she is not going to shirk those responsibilities. Told with heart and a love of cooking, Emoni's coming-of-age story illustrates how each of us needs to choose the path that will bring us fulfillment—even if that path is not the traditional one. With a diverse group of characters who all tend to act the age they are, this is an approachable book for teens that will leave the reader with hope—and hungry for some Puerto Rican cuisine.