Elizabeth Acevedo’s newest novel With the Fire On High won’t stay on your classroom library shelves for long. Acevedo turns up the heat with her young protagonist Emoni–a high school senior, a talented chef, and a young mother.
Your students will love her voice as they follow her coming of age story including relationships, motherhood, and the pursuit of a dream. Although Emoni’s journey may not be traditional, readers will admire her devotion to her family, and she can serve as a role model for many young women.
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What Drew me to With the Fire on High?
I love Elizabeth Acevedo. In my creative writing class, I use her work as mentor texts. I show her recitations to inspire students to share their work. And I encourage students to study her in-depth during our Author Study project.
Truly, if you haven’t watched this powerhouse of a woman perform, stop reading this and go do it. For real.
So when her second novel With the Fire on High hit shelves, I knew it needed to be on my To Be Read list and added to my classroom library.
I had assumed that With the Fire on High would be a novel in verse like Acevedo’s debut book The Poet X. So I was surprised when I opened it up and it was a book-book. Surprised, but not displeased.
I knew nothing going into this read other than that Acevedo wrote it, but it turned out to be a delightful story. Acevedo weaves cooking throughout the story, which makes the book feel cozy and comforting as you read.
The cover doesn’t hurt either. With the Fire on High adds a delightful splash of color to a classroom library shelf.
What Makes With the Fire on High “Lit”?
First, Emoni is relatable. She’s a single teenage mom, but she’s not a stereotype or even a “bad kid”. She made a mistake in her youth and now works hard to make her life the best it can be for her and her family.
The love she feels for her daughter is obvious from page one. It’s part of what makes her character so endearing. The only love that can maybe compete, is Emoni’s love for cooking.
So the second-best thing about With the Fire on High is the food scenes.
Cooking and Emoni’s growth as a chef is an integral part of this coming-of-age novel. Good luck reading this story without drooling a little bit!
Each section even starts out with a recipe that has Emoni’s special touch.
Adding Hope to Your Classroom Library
Lastly, one of the major themes of this book is hope. Emoni knows that being a single, teenage mother will be hard, but she has hope and trust that she can do it.
She wants to travel to Spain with her culinary class. Even though she has no idea how to afford it, she works hard to raise the money and hopes that everything will work out.
When she connects with the new boy in her class, Emoni knows that he’s probably untrustworthy, looking for someone “easy”, or will otherwise prove unreliable. Yet, as they grow closer, she allows herself to hope for more.
Emoni doesn’t come from an easy background. She lives in an apartment with her grandmother who mostly raised her. She has a young daughter to provide for. Yet, never does she use this as an excuse or ever play the victim.
She hopes for better and works her butt off to make it happen.
It’s hard not to like a story and a heroine like that. And for that reason, your library needs With the Fire on High.
Who’s the Perfect Reader for With the Fire on High?
Because Emoni’s a young mother, I think high school girls will gravitate towards this book. Not that there’s nothing for young men–I think boys could definitely enjoy this book too–but Emoni’s character does deal with female-specific issues and her experience in the world as a woman defines her point-of-view.
This book will also draw in Latinx students because of the art, the protagonist, and Acevedo’s name on the cover. My classroom library lacks in this department, so it’s wonderful to have another Latinx book on the shelves.
With the Fire on High is a thick book and can be intimidating. Although the Lexile score isn’t terribly high, it might just be too much book for students who aren’t at grade level or invested in the book from the start.
This is definitely a novel that a student will have to want to read in order to finish.
Emoni’s love of cooking could also be another draw for students. At my school, we offer very few electives, but the culinary arts is one of them. I would totally throw this book at any student invested in their cooking classes (and, in fact, already threw it at our cooking teacher).
A Role Model for Your Classroom Library
Lastly, while I’m not sure that I would directly recommend it to a specific student, I think this would be a great read for any young student who finds herself pregnant or taking care of a child while still in high school.
Emoni faces motherhood with love and grace. She knows that her child must be her first priority and doesn’t allow anything to undermine that.
With the Fire on High doesn’t hide any of Emoni’s fears around motherhood or growing up either; I think that vulnerability could be useful to a pregnant teenager who might not have many peers around that can understand what she’s going through.
I recommend putting this book out there to your students: make it visible, book talk it, promote it. But don’t push it on anyone.
The right students will gravitate towards it naturally.
Also, this is a case in which you need to know your school, parents, and your district. Having a teenage mother as the main character in a book might be “too progressive” for some schools or districts.
If you’re worried that this novel might be met with some resistance by parents or your administration, err on the side of caution and leave it off of your library shelves.
For an urban school, however, I think With the Fire On High is a perfect independent reading choice to add to your library.
With the Fire on High: Facts
Title: With the Fire on High
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Setting: The city of Philadelphia–mostly Emoni‘s house and her school
Main Character: Emoni Santiago, Afro-latinx high school senior and mother
Page Numbers: 400