I am not a mother. Nor am I a chef. In fact, there are many aspects to our main character’s, Emoni Santiago, life and who she is that I am unable to identify with. Regardless, Elizabeth Acevedo’s ability to craft a beautiful story, following her debut The Poet X, makes it easy for one to place themselves in Emoni’s shoes. She is relatable—there is no doubt—and Acevedo’s novel could not have come at a better time for me. Emoni, much like me, is a senior in high school struggling to figure out and come to terms with the change that will ensue after graduation. She is a single mother in her own senior year of high school with a passion, a powerful one, for cooking. She wants nothing more than to be able to work in a real kitchen so that she may express the magic that her abuela is constantly assuring she possesses, but she is far too overwhelmed with the reality of life to believe in all of that.
Magic is what Emoni possesses, however, as her food holds the ability to conjure up people’s fondest memories and warmest feelings. Her food is incomparable according to her abuela, best friend Angelica, and even her father who is not consistent in her life. With the Fire on High is a story of a girl finding bliss in and enhancing her passion amidst the struggles that come with being any regular person. The novel explores the complications and intersectionality of being Afro-Latina, a young single mother, a student, and being a part of a low-income community that is gentrifying. These are only to name a few. Acevedo is able to project these aspects of her identity to beautifully convey intersectionality and other issues within our society.
This aspect of the story became very apparent to me early on, and I was immediately enthralled. Acevedo’s lighthearted writing is captivating and feels very real, making Emoni feel as though she is your friend and are able to grow along with her. All of her thoughts, insecurities, emotions, and doubts are captured in the story, creating a reliable narrator for the story. The writing, along with the dialogue, had a wonderful flow to it. One that made it easy to pick up the story and finish it all in one sitting. Although the story is set across the journey of her tumultuous senior year, its fast pace will make anyone want to turn to the next page every time. This book leaves one insatiable, even making me want to delve into Acevedo’s debut novel, The Poet X, so that I may get to experience her writing once more. With the Fire on High is easily one of those stories that make you wish you could read it all over again for the first time ever. It has easily become one of my favorite novels of all time, and I hope that it may become one of yours too.