I decided to read Elizabeth Acevedo’s “With the Fire on High” because it is one of the few books I know of that is written about a teen mother, not a teen getting pregnant, but a high schooler trying to navigate all of the struggles of raising a toddler while still finishing homework, working part-time and applying for colleges.

Emoni Santiago got pregnant as a freshman in high school, but she is introduced as a senior. Her daughter is 2, and Emoni devotes the time she’s out of school to taking care of her daughter and helping her grandma, “‘Buela,” pay the bills. Whenever she’s stressed, Emoni pours her emotions into her food, letting the heat of the frying pan melt away her stress. ‘Buela has always told her she has a gift for cooking, and when her school offers a culinary arts class for the first time since she’s started, Emoni’s excited to learn.

Class is more difficult than she first thought, however, and the trip to Spain at the end of the semester, or at least the funds to make it possible, is daunting. Emoni has to figure out where her priorities lie, and if she can afford to put herself first for once.

Elizabeth Acevedo writes teenagers well. At one point, Emoni says, “I feel like I’m being pulled in a hundred different directions and my feet are stuck in cement,” which is exactly how I felt during my senior year of high school. While this book was written primarily for teens who are going through similar situations to Emoni’s, anyone that has struggled their way through high school can relate to her experience.

One of the most difficult things about “With the Fire on High” is reading it with an empty stomach. Most of the food featured in the book is a blend of Afro-Puerto Rican and African-American (like Emoni herself), and my mouth watered every time it talked about her cooking. Mercifully, Acevedo includes three recipes in the book: beer bread, strawberry milk and lemon verbena tembleque (a Puerto Rican style pudding).

Despite my growling stomach interrupting my reading, “With the Fire on High” kept my attention in a way that most books don’t. Elizabeth Acevedo writes characters that are easy to become invested in, and Emoni’s narrative comes from a point of view that I wish I heard more often. I would recommend this book to high schoolers and young adults, people who are sympathetic to high schoolers and young adults, and anyone with a passion for good food.

If you are interested in reading “With the Fire on High,” you can find it with the other new teen books in the Gering Public Library.


“The Ungrateful Refugee: What immigrants never tell you” by Dina Nayeri

“Everything is Figureoutable” by Marie Forleo a fun self-help book

“How To: Absurd scientific advice for common real-world problems” by Randall Munroe


“19th Christmas” James Patterson’s 11th adult book out this year

“The Institute” by Stephen King –kids confronting evil

“Child’s Play” by Danielle Steel- a perfect family has secrets

“Cilka’s Journey” by Heather Morris (the author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz)

“The Shape of the Night” by Tess Gerritsen-a haunted mansion

“Sins of the Fathers” J.A. Jance –J.P. Beaumont is back at it

“The Giver of the Stars” by Jojo Moyes-Appalachian librarians

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