REVIEW – With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

“And if everything else goes wrong, a little squeeze of lime and a bottle of hot sauce ain’t never hurt nobody.”

I don’t typically read YA so this was a touch outside of my comfort zone – but i’m so glad I picked it up! Emoni is such a great character – she’s strong and mature but still felt like an authentic 17-year-old. She is juggling a lot of things – senior year, a toddler, starting to care for her abuela, a job and increased responsibilities in her culinary class at school.

I loved that this book was set in Philly (okay, so i’ve only been once but I immediately fell in love with the city). Nothing in this story felt forced or unrealistic to me – Emoni’s journey throughout her senior year had the perfect balance of ups and downs to make for a compelling story that still felt plausible. I also loved that Emoni wasn’t perfect – yes, she’s a great mother and has more responsibility on her shoulders than the typical teenager, but she also still makes mistakes that you’d expect from someone in high school and sometimes lets her stubbornness get in the way of her success.

I’d be an idiot not to talk about Elizabeth Acevedo. Acevedo isn’t just a writer, she’s an artist. Her writing is effortless, smooth and vivid. And she transfers her talents to her main character. Emoni doesn’t just cook, she CREATES. She has an innate ability to discern which flavors will work together and how an already amazing dish can be elevated to new heights. I loved the way food was incorporated throughout this story – it’s clearly a key part of Emoni’s life, but it doesn’t dominate the narrative. Her love for cooking is wedged perfectly between her love for her friends and family.

{very slight spoilers start here!}

There’s a romantic subplot here that I wasn’t a huge fan of – I liked the pairing of the two characters, but I felt that it wasn’t necessary in the story. However, i’m also a grumpy old thirty-something and I think I would have appreciated the romance a bit more if I were in the intended age group for this book. For what it’s worth, I loved Malachi’s character and I loved the way he was included – slowly at first, before becoming a more integral part of Emoni’s life.

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