Chaima ✨ شيماء 's Reviews > With the Fire on High

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
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it was amazing
bookshelves: contemporary, young-adult, arc, 2019-releases, poc-rep, own-voices, fiction, favorites

With the Fire on High was soft, enfolding, light as a dusting of snow upon my forehead, the kind of novel that deadens the harshness of the world and takes the sting from any barb. I floated through the story as if set adrift in a lifeboat on a gently rocking sea. Delight sluiced through me, and I tingled with the giddy buoyancy of reading a book that made my heart feel like it had grown too large for the confines of my ribs. No wonder, then, that when I turned the last page, the entire world seemed to be oversaturated, too bright, too sharp, swallowing the slice of light and returning me abruptly to darkness.

Acevedo’s second novel centers around 17-year-old Afro-latina Emoni Santiago whose cooking is an instrument of wonder. When people taste Emoni’s food, something deep inside them, once misaligned, shifts back into its proper place. An aspiring chef, she dreams of attending culinary school where she can tend her skills, through practice and diligence, like gardens until they gleamed beneath the sun. But now whenever she sought those fantasies, her 3-year-old daughter’s face would not let them take root. Raised by her grandmother Gloria (whom she calls ‘Buela) after her mother died and her father became a figurehead moving in and out of her life with little permanence, Emoni is determined to be the best mother she could be.

When Emoni’s school announces a new culinary arts class that will culminate in a weeklong apprenticeship in Spain, there was a ricochet of feeling in her, a tentative swell of hope flinching back toward the firmer ground of hopelessness. Emoni is not sure how long she can grasp after the tail end of her dream when so many responsibilities echoed through her mind like the tolling of a bell. But Emoni’s will has always been unwaveringly strong. When she got pregnant and the rumors and the snide remarks came thick as biting flies, Emoni pulled her fearlessness forth, mantling it like cream on every inch of her skin. And she will be just as undaunted in the pursuit of her dreams.

With the Fire on High gripped me from the first couple chapters, and I promptly slipped into the sheathing warmth within it. Acevedo’s voice is resonant, warm, with a pull to it that reminds me of ocean tides. You can tell the author has a strong background in poetry, because the way she utilizes language throughout the novel is masterful. Her prose, so full of lyrical subtlety, searing clarity and an understated assuredness, scintillates. It buoys and soothes at once. The novel is also separated into sections, each of which is introduced with recipes so rich they linger on the tongue; it was such a lovely addition.

The heart of the book, though, is motherhood. At that, it triumphs magnificently. With the Fire on High is simultaneously ardent and deferent. The graceful sense of sympathy and wonder—and along with it a guarded, hard-won hope—are what make this novel dazzle, even as a haze of helpless despair begins to creep through the pages. More intimate than a diary, Emoni’s narration wavers between funny and devastating. She is one of the most charismatic fictional creations in recent memory. Emoni is strong, unyielding, and there is a stunning vitality to her—her character gleams pearlescent, lit up from within, and it’s a delight to spend time with her.

There is tenderness wounded into this book, ineffable and aching. And there’s despair, thick in the air as winter mists. But through it all, threading them together like jewels on a golden string is a torrent of love. The bottom falls out of Emoni’s dedication for her daughter, proving it an abyss, its depths unknown. She carries her daughter’s heart in her chest, and even when it seems that she has no hope and no solution, she revels in what she has instead—a caring grandmother and a healthy child—and she fights to protect it from the scolding eyes of everyone else.

But the novel doesn’t shy away from the hardships studding Emoni’s path: so many wants and hopes lap at Emoni in a ceaseless tide, but difficult things are thrown her way in clumps and batches, unmanageable and messy, and if they would just let her go she would soon lie face down in the softness of the earth and sleep. Acevedo’s touch, however, remains light even when hopelessness encroaches on the story, and she surrounds Emoni with an unbending support system, which includes Angelica, Emoni’s queer best friend, Tyrone, Emma’s dad, who is steadily present in his daughter’s life, and Emoni’s ‘Buela with her quiet, unremittent love. Even Emoni’s father, a genuinely kind and generous person, but who is dogged by the loss of his wife ( “the best of him”, Emoni says, “is reserved for strangers,” but over the course of the novel, he learns to extend that benevolence to his own family). Emoni also meets Malachi, a kind and handsome new student, who indefatigably pursues her affections but never crosses her boundaries, and Emoni’s heart thaws for him regardless of how much she tries to put her veneer of remoteness back firmly in place. The romance that blooms between them is not only heart-warming but also realistic.

Overall, With the Fire on High is an immensely warm-hearted treat that boldly gives voice to young women whose stories are often dismissed as cautionary tales. It’s a unique, hearty story that you can easily breeze through over a weekend. Trust me, I binge read most  of this book and it was the best therapy session that I’ve ever had!

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Reading Progress

November 10, 2018 – Shelved
May 13, 2019 – Started Reading
May 14, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-30 of 30 (30 new)

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Elise (TheBookishActress) Em this is the most valid thing I’ve read in my life

ellie i think u mean this is gaylid, gaylise

message 3: by Claudia ✨ (new)

Claudia ✨ wow I couldn’t relate more the girl on the cover looks like a whole ass buffet

message 4: by Maia (new) - added it

Maia That's a good enough reason! ;D

message 5: by Mel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mel Anie (finals - 2months) It also has lbtq rep in it! Just sayin'.

Feral goblin child 🍃 My bisexuality is agressivly showing

Chaima ✨ شيماء Elise wrote: "Em this is the most valid thing I’ve read in my life"

I can’t stop staring at it girls are so fucking pretty and im SUFFERING

Chaima ✨ شيماء ellie wrote: "i think u mean this is gaylid, gaylise"


message 9: by Taylor (new) - added it

Taylor I've never related to something more viscerally in my life, like the girl!! on the cover!! is GORGEOUS

Chaima ✨ شيماء Claudia ✨ wrote: "wow I couldn’t relate more the girl on the cover looks like a whole ass buffet"

fuck, u right. i'm honestly in a perptual state of paralysis bc girls are so fucking pretty and i'm a pile of seaweed when it comes to them

Chaima ✨ شيماء Maia wrote: "That's a good enough reason! ;D"

it sure is!!!

Chaima ✨ شيماء Mel wrote: "It also has lbtq rep in it! Just sayin'."


Chaima ✨ شيماء HeartlessFaeKing 🔮 wrote: "My bisexuality is agressivly showing"

Wow mood!!!!!

Chaima ✨ شيماء Taylor wrote: "I've never related to something more viscerally in my life, like the girl!! on the cover!! is GORGEOUS"


message 15: by Tib (new) - rated it 5 stars


Chaima ✨ شيماء Tib wrote: "MOOD"

the author and publisher when they gave this cover the green light:

message 17: by Arden (new)

Arden She's pretty! It's exactly why I decided to read the review

Armalite It's a lovely book, I hope you'll enjoy it!

Chaima ✨ شيماء Arden wrote: "She's pretty! It's exactly why I decided to read the review"


Chaima ✨ شيماء Armalite wrote: "It's a lovely book, I hope you'll enjoy it!"

ooh that's so kind, thank you so much!!

message 21: by Tib (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tib I just got the email that my request is filled for this at my library! I'm grabbing it the moment I can get a break from the front desk!

message 22: by Elsa (new) - added it

Elsa How do you read so much omg I wish I was as good as reading. I really love your reviews :))

Chaima ✨ شيماء Tib wrote: "I just got the email that my request is filled for this at my library! I'm grabbing it the moment I can get a break from the front desk!"

yess!!! it was such a good feel book I WANT TO DO IT AGAIN

message 24: by Chaima ✨ شيماء (last edited May 18, 2019 05:01PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chaima ✨ شيماء Elsa wrote: "How do you read so much omg I wish I was as good as reading. I really love your reviews :))"

aahh this is so sweet <3 my exams are over so I'm stress reading waiting for my final grade lol

message 25: by Elsa (new) - added it

Elsa Oof it be like that lol

message 26: by Chanel (new) - added it

Chanel Reid I’m doing the same. I just started this book yesterday and nearly done already. It’s been a really good read.

message 27: by Mishwishy (new)

Mishwishy This is such a beautiful review omg !

message 28: by Mahnoor (new)

Mahnoor  Waqas (she.reads.too.much) Love your review. I'm planning to read this now ❤️

Janice Your review is almost as beautifully written as the book! Maybe you should be writing yourself.

message 30: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Booth Beautifully written review.

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