Review | Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High

This month’s Indy Book Club Selection Is a Memorable Coming-of-Age Novel Packed with Flavor.

Credit: Courtesy

With grocery shopping being the most exciting outing over the last several months, browsing the stalls of the farmers’ market to pick out fresh seasonal produce and then experimenting with new recipes have become the highlights of my week. Fruits and vegetables are full of color and possibility. Brussels sprouts and pomegranates look good—wouldn’t they be perfect with tahini sauce and a sprinkle of feta? I’ll toss in some toasted hazelnuts for good measure. Then I like to spend the day cooking and listening to an audiobook. 

Emoni, the heroine of Elizabeth Acevedo’s follow-up to her award-winning novel The Poet X,feels most at home in the kitchen, too. She lives for remixing recipes, experimenting with ingredients, and feeding people’s hunger as well as their souls. “How does the dish make you feel?” Emoni asks when she serves her friends and family a meal. 

While she exercises freedom and creativity when cooking, in the rest of her life Emoni feels like her choices have already been made for her because she’s a senior in high school raising a toddler while living with her abuela, whose health is deteriorating. Juggling daycare drop-off, coordinating custody with her daughter’s teenage father and his judgmental family, and working an after-school job at a fast-food joint don’t leave her much time to dream of what she wants for her future. The chance to take a culinary class challenges her to find a way to balance her responsibilities while also making room to follow her passions.

Acevedo’s words bring the smells, tastes, and textures of food to life, as she peppers recipes in with Emoni’s musings on her insecurities and experiences as an Afro-Latinx young woman. But it’s the portrayal of the nuanced, supportive relationships with other women — her grandmother, who loves and supports her; her best friend, who fiercely defends her; and a teacher who challenges her — that make this character-driven novel memorable.


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