With the Fire on High

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From the "New York Times"-bestselling author of the National Book Award winner "The Poet X" comes a dazzling novel in prose about a girl with talent, pride, and a drive to feed the soul that keeps her fire burning bright.

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Abigail

Dec 17, 2019

A Warm, Confidence Building Story

Emoni is a 17 year old mother to a toddler in Philadelphia. With her baby to care for, bills to pay and Senior year to pass, she doesn't have a minute or a dollar to spare. However, her real passion comes out when she cooks - she has a natural talent for pairing unusual flavours, and leaving people emotionally touched by her food. When an opportunity to take a culinary arts class comes along, it feels impossible. But Emoni carries a quiet strength that will help her to push the boundaries of what she thinks is possible, and with courage, who knows how far she may go?

With The Fire On High is a beautifully paced story, following a remarkable young woman's difficult but rewarding journey towards adulthood. Emoni hasn't started off on an easy path; she was never handed the world on a platter. On the contrary, she is in many ways struggling just to make it through her teen years alive and as unscathed as possible, which is not as easy as it seems when you have a toddler, and only your grandma to rely on in all the world.
Emoni's emotional maturity and resolve to be responsible for her family are highly inspiring. She doesn't balk at the social challenges of teenage motherhood, instead standing tall against the titters and the cruel whispers, reminding herself that she is strong and capable. I think we could all use that reminder sometimes, that most of the time when people are cruel to you it's their issue, not yours.

I always enjoy a little 'everyday magic' in fiction, and this book was no exception. Emoni's gift with food was a very fun addition to this story, and I think that Acevedo played it just right, giving her magic real credence without overdoing it and sliding into fantasy. Many people have small and simple gifts that we may never really understand, but they are special and worth acknowledging.

Something I absolutely adore about this book is the warm and happy feeling it carries almost all the way through. We are all used to dramatic fiction following the same patterns, which leads to a giant crux moment of disaster, where it feels like everything has gone wrong and there is no going back. I find that story pattern exhausting if I'm completely honest, and I was wonderfully surprised to find that this book is different. There are a lot of moments in Emoni's story when things don't go right and when she feels she is at the end of her tether, but it carries on, it flows, and we are not at any point left gasping and stressed to pieces, wondering how things can be fixed. I find this to be a much more natural flow for this type of story - after all, we are supposedly reading a snippet from the middle of someone's life, which is never a neatly plotted, 'A to B to C then finished' pattern. We all go through multiple ups and downs all at the same time, and rarely do we face those world-stopping moments, followed by a quick tidy up and some nice closure. I truly enjoyed the pace and pattern of this book, and would love to read more books that make me feel the way this one did.

My only criticism of this lovely book is that although the pacing was fantastic, the chapters themselves were a little too short even for me, and I love short chapters. Many of them were a page and a half or two pages long, and that began to make the text feel a little choppy. I wouldn't have minded short chapters in this story, but I think maybe twice as long would have been better for my taste.

With The Fire On High is a beautifully developed, emotionally perceptive and soul warming story of a teenage woman's struggle for wholeness. Emoni's path is riddled with pain and fear and difficulty, but her story shows the beauty that can be found in the rockiest of places, and the value of the simple things in life like love, good food, and above all, family.

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