Saturday, March 07, 2020

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Since my return to blogging, I have also been trying to get back into the habit of reading and commenting on other blogs in addition to having my own content here. Let's face it, they both take time and effort.

Not all that long ago, I read a review for this book over at All the Books I Can Read and I knew that I had to read it! And a bonus was I knew that my library system has it because we both use the same library system.

With the Fire on High is a young adult novel that deals with some really big issues. Emoni Santiago is a young girl just starting her final year of high school, with all that means. She needs to make choices about what colleges, if any,  to apply for, what her future looks like. For Emoni, that all focuses around two people....her two year old daughter Emma and her Abuela (grandmother) who raised her because her mother died at birth and her father lives in Puerto Rico, visiting once a year, meaning they have a complicated relations. Abuela has stood by her and supported her with Emma. Emoni is therefore concerned with how she can support both herself and Emma and relieve some of the burden from her grandmother, which may well mean foregoing her dreams.

Emma's father is somewhat present in their lives, but at times his presence is a challenge, especially when he thinks that he can have a say in how Emoni lives her life.

Emoni's passion in life is cooking and she has a natural talent for it, and has done from a very young age, something that I wish I had more of.

If  you ask her to tell it, 'Buela starts with the same story.
I was a little older than Babygirl is now and always following 'Buela into the kitchen. I would sit at the kitchen table eating bootleg Cheerios or rice or something I could pick up with my fingers and shove into my mouth while she played El Gran Combo or Celia Cruz or La Lupe loud on her old-school radio, shimmying her hips while stirring a pot. She can't remember what made that day different - if my pops, Julio, had been late in arriving on one of his yearly visits from San Juan, or if it'd been a time she'd gotten reprimanded at work for taking too long on someone's measurements - but this particular day she didn't turn the radio on and she wasn't her usual self at the stove. At one point, she must have  forgotten I was there because she threw the kitchen rag down on the floor an left. She just walked straight out of the kitchen, crossed the living room, opened the front door, and was gone.
We can't agree on what it was that she'd started cooking. She says it was a stew and nothing that would burn quick, but although my own memory is childhood-fuzzy, I remember it being a pot of moro - the rice and beans definitely something that would soak up water. 'Buela says she just stepped out onto the stoop to clear her head, and when she came back  ten minutes later I had pulled the step stool to the stove, had a bunch of spices on the counter, and had my small arm halfway into the pot, stirring.

And then a couple of paragraphs later.

In fact, when 'Buela tasted it (whatever "it" was) she says it was the best thing she'd ever eaten. How it made her whole day better, sweeter. Says a memory of Puerto Rico she  hadn't thought about in years reached out like an island hammock and cradled her close. When she tells the story, it's always a different simile, but sweet like that. All I know is she cried into her plate that night.. And so at the age of four, I learned someone could cry from a happy memory.



Her food evokes emotions and memories in those who are lucky enough to eat it, and for me, as a reader it evoked a big desire to eat the dishes depicted.

Emoni struggles a bit at school, and so she has pretty much talked herself into thinking that college isn't an option for her. She knows that in this last year at school she has to work hard, do her hours in her part time job at Burger Joint, and do her best to look after "Babygirl". She doesn't really have capacity to pick up another class and she really doesn't want to be distracted by the new boy in school.

When her teacher tells her that there is a new culinary arts elective, Emoni really wants to do it but given it includes an overseas trip to Spain it is another thing that might be just out of reach. Emoni really has a great support team around her, from her advisory teacher to her friends and grandmother, and they encourage her to join up. In the class though, she clashes with the teacher, because he needs her to learn that instinct is great but to work in food she also needs to be able to show technique, follow instructions, and food presentation. And then, how on earth is she going to be able to make the overseas trip happen?

From the first page I was drawn in by the writing and by the story and addresses issues such as young love, young parenthood, coming of age, friendship and more. I enjoyed all the food references, as well as the story. Emoni was a young woman who was prepared to work hard to achieve her goals, no matter how challenging the consequences both past and present. I admired her a lot.

I really enjoyed this book!

The author has a new book coming out in May that I really like the sound of too!

Rating 4.5/5

I am connecting this post up to Foodies Read hosted at Based on a True Story

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

20 comments:

  1. Thanks for stopping by EE and I'm glad you're joining up with Cook the Books!

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    1. I'm looking forward to Cook the Books Debra.

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  2. Mmm books that mention food!

    ALso, I have only seen praise. I do need to try her books

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    1. Try this one Blodeuedd. I don't think you will be disappointed!

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  3. Interesting book review. Another example of books by Latina authors telling their own stories. I hope the publishing industry will wake up and feature them instead of only books by mainstream authors like the controversial one that is getting millions of dollars for a book she didn't know how to write.

    best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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    1. There are some great Latina authors out there just waiting to be discovered!

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  4. Sounds like a great read. We will be happy to have you join us at CTB

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  5. Firstly, I love that cover. Very enticiing.
    Secondly, did you know that you can check the availability of any book in Victorian libraries at Library Link (https://www.llv.net.au/zportal/zengine?VDXaction=Navigation)
    and if your own library doesn't have it you can get it on inter-library loan?

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    1. I have taken advantage of ILL many, many times over the years Lisa!

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  6. I'm making a real effort to get back to blogging and reading more in 2020, too. (I'm not actually doing that well, as we're already into March.) I love the cover and the sound of this book! Not one that I've come across yet, so thank you for the heads-up!

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    1. Good luck with your blogging and reading comeback Laurie.

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    2. Thanks! Just posted again. Two days in a row! That's not going to last. ;)

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  7. I LOVED this book and POET X. I'm so anxious to read her new one. Great review

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    1. I am curious about POET X but I think my next read by here will most likely by the new book.

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  8. That cover is very eye-catching! And a pot of rice and beans is on my schedule, using some of the gandule beans ripening at the moment.

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    1. I don't even know what gandule beans are but I am very impressed that you are growing your own!

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  9. I loved that book too. I don't often see books that deal with raising a child as a teenager. They all seem to focus on pregnancy only. Thanks for linking up to Foodies Read.

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  10. So glad to see that you enjoyed this one. I've seen it around and I just love this cover - that itself has made me want to read it. I will be checking this one out.

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