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Review of With the Fire on High

With the Fire on High
by Elizabeth Acevedo
High School    HarperTeen    392 pp.
5/19    978-0-06-266283-5    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-266285-9    $9.99

High school senior Emoni Santiago, whose “Puerto Rican side is as Black as [her] Black American side,” is many things — an aspiring chef, a proud North Philly native, a reserved student who keeps to herself, a teenage single parent. Emoni and her two-year-old daughter live with Emoni’s abuela, as Emoni’s mother is dead and her father lives in Puerto Rico. Emoni’s life is one of difficult choices, and she is not sure she will be able to both pursue her cooking dreams and support her daughter. But as seniors begin choosing electives, Emoni signs up for a culinary arts class that culminates in a trip to Spain — and she begins to see a path forward if only she dares follow it. In this prose novel (following her acclaimed verse novel The Poet X, rev. 3/18), Acevedo continues to create beautifully realized characters with complex lives (“I shake my head at all the separate feelings inside me; sometimes I feel like a bigger mess than Babygirl’s scattered toys”), and her portrait of a young mother is a story too infrequently taken up in YA. But readers of all sorts will find something to connect with in this honest and ultimately hopeful story — and aspiring chefs like Emoni can follow a few actual recipes (such as “When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon Verbena Tembleque”).

From the May/June 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Christina Dobbs About Christina Dobbs

Christina Dobbs is an assistant professor of English Education at Boston University. She is a former high school teacher, literacy coach, and reading specialist, and she studied adolescent literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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