Book Review — With the Fire on High

Title:  With the Fire on High
Author:  Elizabeth Acevedo
Genre:  YA contemporary
Pages:  Hardback 388
ISBN:  978-0-06-266283-5
Opening Lines:  "Babygirl doesn't cry when I suck my teeth and undo her braid for the fourth time."

Rating


"Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago's life has been about making the tough decisions, doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen. There, she lets her hands tell her what to cook, listening to her intuition and adding a little something magical every time, turning her food into straight-up goodness.

"Even though she's always dreamed of working in a kitchen after she graduates, Emoni knows that it's not worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet despite the rules she's made for her life—and everyone else's rules, which she refuses to play by—once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free."

~ Jacket copy




After taking a YA literature course in college, I have fallen in love with the genre.  Sometimes the stories tend to be far richer and deal with complex issues.  It is not uncommon to find me reaching for a YA book over anything else.  Frankly, some of the YA horror out there is far more terrifying than anything leading horror novelists write!  In addition, as a middle/high school English teacher, I am always on the lookout for new books to add to my classroom library or suggest to my more reluctant readers.  While cruising Instragram, this book popped up on one of my fav teacher pages.  The premise seemed interesting and the cover art alone was gorgeous!  I quickly ran to the local library and got a copy.
 

The story is about a young girl growing up in Philly and trying to find her way in the world.  Be struggles with acceptance because of race, being a young mother, and her aspirations to be a chef.   


This book was one of the few DNFs.  I truly wanted to like it and feel something for Emoni.  She has huge dreams and wants to rise above the label of "teen mother".  Unfortunately, the resemblance to my favorite Kerry Russell movie was too much for me to overlook.

The first 100 pages of the book fails to tell a story.  There are hints here and there of the author moving the audience to Emoni eventually taking a trip to Spain; however, nothing happens for a third of the book.  One three page chapter will briefly discuss Emoni's first period class and the next will talk about her absentee father.  The constant shift between random stories to build a backstory and her current life disrupts the narrative flow.  As a reader, it is hard to determine whether I am reading a story about a young teen mom talking about her past or trying to show her struggle in the present. 

Emoni is a flat character.  As a reader, you want to find a way to either connect with the protagonist or feel something for them.  When the book opens, however, it feels as though all of Emoni's growth and development happened between her freshman and senior years in high school.  At this point, she has dealt with all of the adversity of being a pregnant teen/struggles with the social stigma and now, at the start of this book, all of her dreams are coming true.  Because of that, there is no true conflict. 

The prose is extremely choppy and rudimentary at best.  Some word choices add a bit of flare; however, they do not fit with the overall writing style.  I found myself shaking my head and completely baffled by many of the word choices.  This is my first venture into Acevedo, so I am not familiar with her writing style.

Honestly, this book has amazing potential and I am exceedingly pleased that people appear to enjoy it!  From what I did manage to read, it shows teens that it is possible to overcome some pretty crazy hardships; however, they need to be willing to put in the hard work and not give up.  For me, however, this book just fell flat and lacked execution.      



Much love, Sinn

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"If you’re a freak like me, Wave your flag! If you’re a freak like me, Get off your ass! It’s our time now, To let it all hang out!" I am a recovering English major, closet bibliophile, breve addicted, zombie lover with a rockabilly and heavy metal fetish.