Monday, October 28, 2019

With the Fire on High - Elizabeth Acevedo

Summary: Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions—doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness.

Even though she dreams of working as a chef after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet despite the rules she thinks she has to play by, once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I know I’ve said this before, but there is some seriously legit young adult fic out there. Some of my favorite books are in the young adult genre, and if you haven’t partaken of some of the beauty and wisdom available for these younger readers, I’m telling you right now—you’re missing out. One thing that I really love about YA Fic (and all fic for young people, actually) is that the authors have the freedom to tell it like it is. I don’t know if we lose our tough skin as we get older, or if we just don’t like to have to face the truth, but I very much appreciate the forthright manner in which youth fiction addresses tough issues. It’s not like kids don’t have to face the same issues adults do, right? They may have to face them in a different light and from a different perspective (i.e. it’s obviously different to be the one getting divorced versus the kid whose parents are divorcing) but they have to experience the issue nevertheless. They also experience things that maybe have not been seen in older generations. I know each generation has its unique challenges, and young adult fic these days does an excellent job of addressing it. Now. I’m not a young adult. Shocking, I know. I have a young teen and then just little kids trailing down the line after that, so I don’t have kids who are experiencing young adult issues yet, but I would like to think I’m not completely obviously to the things going on in the lives of young adults. However, I do think that I’m not alone in my generation (or the younger ones) in really appreciating the large repertoire of exceptional young adult literature available.

Enough prelude. Peeps, this is some legit YA fic. I really, really enjoyed this book. First and foremost, I loved the voice of the main character, Emoni. She is sassy, she is smart, she is vulnerable. She has problems, but she has some great strengths, too. There are people in her life who are really great, and there are people who aren’t so great, and sometimes she’s not always a reliable narrator so that was some nice spice as well. Additionally, I loved how not only was it written in first person, but how she was addressing the reader, and the author, Elizabeth Acevedo, did an excellent job of having Emoni narrate her own story and move the story along as well. There were chapters when time would pass from the previous one, and Emoni did a great job of letting us know that time had moved on. She shared much of her life, but not all of it, and as a reader I felt privileged to have been a part of what she had allowed us to see and experience with her. Seriously, it was masterful. Emoni is one of my fave YA fic characters I’ve read in a really long time. She was relatable and understandable, but not necessarily because we have a lot in common—we really don’t—but because she was so honest and vulnerable and did such a great job of helping me understand her life. I couldn’t help but love her and feel connected to her. The other characters were great, too—don’t get me wrong. I really loved her ‘buela and her bestie…and so many others. And I understood better the complexities of human life and human relationships because of these people and their real strengths and understandable weaknesses.

A good main character is not enough to completely make a book. Sure, a bad character can break it quite easily, but great characters and a good story are both key to work together to make an excellent book. This is such a book. The story is excellent. As mentioned in my first paragraph, there are a lot of issues that young adults have to deal with (as with all young adults throughout time), and I love that there are YA fic books that are not afraid to take those issues head on. I loved the way that Acevedo did this—it was natural and although there were so many issues brought up, many were not discussed in-depth because they didn’t have to be. You don’t have to hammer an issue on the head for forever for the reader to get the point. In fact, sometimes just mentioning the issue or the tough circumstance helps readers relate to the story in a way that makes them feel less alone or like they’re represented or heard. I loved that about this book. I also loved the cultural discussions in this book. I love reading about other cultures, especially ones that are part of my larger culture of a whole. It’s the ultimate melting pot book in that I learned something new about Emoni’s black Puerto Rican heritage, and yet I identified with it as an American culture overall. It was subtle and yet not. It was beautifully handled.

I think one of the main issues in this novel that was handled so well was the issue of teen mothers. Emoni is a teen mother, and that has changed everything for her in life. Although there are many young adults who won’t relate to it, I love that she was represented so well and in a way that would hopefully bridge a gap between teens who don’t have children and those that do. Emoni is facing many of the same issues all teens are facing—college, grades, love interests, family, etc., and any time a reader is able to make common ground with a character who maybe doesn’t share their background or circumstances is a bridge created.

People, this is the key to solving all the world’s problems. A bridge created. Do I think this book is going to save the world? Probably not. Do I think that it will help some readers understand some of their classmates or others different than them? Absolutely. And that’s the bridge. We need more literature like this to create a bridge. I highly recommend this for adult lovers of YA fic, and for older teens.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and discussion of sex. It wasn’t overly graphic, but it is detailed enough that I would not let a young teen read it.

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