The Stories Our Abuelas Never Tell; Fire On High Book Review
by Astrid Ferguson
With The Fire On High Synopsis:
With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.
With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo is about a young teenage mom (Emoni) who has a natural talent for cooking and making people feel emotionally transported to different moments in their lives from one bite of her food, had me like I need to try some ha-ha. Emoni faces many challenges as a teenage mom and lives with her “buela.” Emoni takes a high school culinary course that changes her entire life and reaffirms pursuing a culinary career. Without giving out too many spoilers I cried, laughed, and fully felt the hurdles that Emoni faces as a single-teenage mom trying to hold on to a dream.
I loved the Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, so when I saw that the book wasn’t written in verse, besides the heart warming recipes (because it’s my favorite genre to read) I was a little hesitant to read. I’ll be honest novels are not my favorite because very few of them have kept my attention throughout. However, because I love Elizabeth, adore her writing, and joined With The Fire On High blog tour, I decided to give it a fair shot. Plus it’s a young adult novel, I’m still young (don’t cut your eyes at me) and I always found young adult to be more intriguing than adult fiction but that’s just me (don’t fight me on this). At first, being completely honest, it took a few pages before I was hooked. I guess that’s a good problem to have, right? Once I was hooked I couldn’t put the book down. If it wasn’t for my two-year old son who needed me to feed him, change his diaper and sit to watch Word Party for the thirtieth time alongside him; I probably would’ve consumed this book in one day.
Make sure you read until the end to enter the giveaway.
As I turned the pages and began delving into Emoni’s life; reading how she was left to be raised by her Abuela, I was instantly held hostage to every word. I started to feel an emotional connection to Emoni and I couldn’t shake it. While Emoni’s story is a little different from my experience, I felt like we shared similarities. Pretty sure that wasn’t Elizabeth’s intention at all ha-ha. No seriously, I don’t know Elizabeth from a can of paint but this story left me wondering if she was once a fly on the wall in my past life (insert thinking emoji here).
Complexity in Stories We Share:
With The Fire On High primarily focuses on Emoni’s struggle of balancing life as a teenage-mom, school, work and keeping some sort of a normal teenage life; it was the underlining complexities within the story that grabbed me. I was immediately transported to the first time I lost my virginity, when Emoni described her first time with Tyrone (Emma’s father). I felt exactly as Emoni did. It wasn’t all that and I was left hoping I could somehow regain my virginity. So I hate to spoil it but my friends lied to me, that jawn was wack. Shocking, right? I was sixteen and it didn’t feel romantic or satisfying. It just happened. Unfortunately for Emoni that resulted with her becoming a teenage mom to her babygirl Emma. Allow me to share a personal story as to why Emoni’s story cut me so deeply. The first time I became pregnant, I was in college. I wasn’t in a stable relationship, my boyfriend’s family at the time was against me having the baby, and I could barely take care of myself. Similar to Emoni’s story with some subtle differences. I was so worried about my studies and my parents. OMG! My parents! What would they say and think of me? Was my initial reaction.
All the thoughts/emotions Emoni felt/described consumed me like sinking sand. As it reminded me of the time where all my worrying and fragality led to a miscarriage. So I felt admiration towards Emoni’s courage of continuing school while having an undiagnosed learning disability, facing adversity and moving past the stigmas. Unlearning the shame, stepping firmly into her role as a mother, while still remaining true to herself, was my favorite takeaway of seventeen, recently turned eighteen year old Emoni. Not allowing others perceptions make her feel ashamed of being a single-teenage mom, was hella motivating. It is one of those stories grandmother’s never share while sipping some cafe con leche, you know? You (me) would always hear Mother’s say (especially Hispanic Mother’s), “She got pregnant because she’s fast.” Instead of, “She is a hard working mom and we should feel inspired by her no matter her age or relationship status.” It’s not uncommon in the Hispanic culture to be a teenage mom (especially not back home). However, here in America teenage mom is something my mother would call “a bad aftertaste.” Add single mother to it there is a whole other set of underlining stigmas, shame, guilt, and societal misconceptions. Making Emoni the trailblazer of her family, while raising a child, and dealing with the transition from a girl to a woman is something to be respected in this story. It was like watching women raise each other and learning to unlearn those paralyzing embedded thoughts.
Other messages that I felt were lingering subtly within the context. Some of which Emoni’s Buela felt but weren’t clearly expressed, as not to take away from the main storyline are the following:
Feeling ashamed of wanting to feel love again after old age and losing a husband.
Tired of raising children but feeling embarrassed to voice it out of fear of hurting Julio’s and Emoni’s feelings.
Discussions around dating wasn’t something shared between Emoni and buela because older women don’t share sexual thoughts or needs.
Guilt, judgement and shame felt and endured as mothers, women, and women of color due to old Hispanic heritage traditions.
Knowing others judge her and her children because she is a vieja who still has to borrow money to do something nice for her grandchild.
The silent judgement that occurs when a single mother dates, like Emoni dealing with Tyrone’s insecurities while getting to know Malachi’s intentions (although Buela solidifies her judgement by saying she should focus on school and not dating).
The messages above seemed like the underlining stories hidden between the lines of Emoni and her buela short dialogues. Dialogues from which emotions evoked within me and appreciated Elizabeth’s way of keeping the adults involved. Also, conveying the vulnerabilities of the adult experience as well. Emoni’s grandmother’s attempt to have a romance but feeling ashamed to share. Making up doctor appointment fallacies, made me laugh. It was like seeing an older woman turn into the teenager lying about staying over a friends house, when in reality they were going to his/her boy/girlfriend’s house (brings back memories?). At the same time, it made me appreciate the viejitas a little more, you know? Abuela’s have needs too, even if we (grandchildren) completely dismiss it most times.
I can remember vividly how some of these conversations with the women in my family transpire over dining room tables, while mami had me set the table. Fortunately for Emoni she lived with her buela and they were always working things out. I have to admit, I envied the relationship Emoni had with her grandmother as it was respectful without the condescending “do as I say” and “I tell you what to do” sort of context. Then again, my visits to my abuela’s house was always short. To visit my abuela I had to hop on a plane and travel to Dominican Republic, rent a car to go deep into el campo, and not fear la letrina (flying roaches while you’re trying to poop and not fall down the huge hole was not my idea of fun). That was usually the extent of our bonding, ha-ha. However, those subtle conversations with her stood in my memory for ever, may she rest in peace. It felt so much more magical reading about Emoni and her buela making meals in the kitchen, while buela would take directives from Emoni. Something that seemed mostly fictional. Maybe I am shooting myself in the foot here but in most Hispanic families (well my Familia) kids don’t get to tell parents what to do. So naturally I think Emoni’s buela reminded me of my own grandmother and the relationship I wish I had with her growing up.
Instantly I became a cheerleader of Emoni, Angelica (her gay best friend), and her buela. Reading With The Fire On High , and truly understanding Emoni’s struggle of never meeting her mother because she died while giving birth to her, feeling abandoned by her father, and being raised by her grandmother or how Emoni calls her “Buela.” Created a whole new set of standards for what we call heroes. Emoni was a really good kid but society constantly judged her. So many underlying messages were conveyed so well in this story and called the reader to check their own perceptions and assimilated stigmas. The way Elizabeth allowed you to feel, while providing space for thoughts to conjure, to later deliver information that made you swallow those initial “stereotypical” developed feelings, were done exquisitely. I found myself seeing how the development of stereotypes and judgement towards others without knowing their background, easily developed in this story. Which is why I as a reader felt even more intrigued to turn the page. I wanted to prove myself right. However, Elizabeth proved me wrong every time. She proved me wrong about Tyrone (Emoni’s baby daddy, Julio (Emoni’s father)) as I had prejudged them at the beginning of the story.
It was like seeing how the teachings of our parents and people we hang with dictates how quickly we can develop fallacies in our minds. Narratives like not understanding the grieving that Emoni’s father was facing until the end (while judging him for leaving Emoni throughout the entire story), to how quickly we judge teenage mothers, or single mothers for that matter, and leading to how much a parent’s life involves sacrifice for the betterment of their children (no matter the parent’s age). While Emoni, has a very subtle romance with Malachi, you can honestly feel the bittersweet emotions she felt continuously having to choose between responsibility and independence. Especially during the class trip to Spain. Honestly, the perplexities of emotions throughout the story is something I think Elizabeth did incredibly well in this book.
What Didn’t Work:
I was left hurting when I turned to the last page. I was left hungry for more of Emoni and eager to know if she would finally become a chef. I felt like this could’ve been YA novel later turned into adult fiction. I would also have to point out that the relationship between Emoni, Abuela, and Julio were perfect (I am reaching). I was left shocked that not a single fight occurred in school or a chancleta didn’t fly across the room hitting Emoni for doing or saying something out of line. Then again that is the beauty of fictional stories like this one, it can be magical and very peaceful (for the most part).
In closing I must add that this was a story that blew me away because I was just expecting to read about a teenage girl trying to reach a dream but instead, I read a story of a young mother, a soldier holding on to her identity. She was born to become a chef and as a reader I was left praying she reaches that and so much more. I felt her potential, drive and ambition to strive. Not just as a chef but as a woman, mother and person. I felt personally connected to Emoni and maybe that is why I feel like diverse stories like these are needed in greater magnitude. Stories that make us question our perceptions, open dialogue around tough conversations, motivate us to believe in our abilities even when the odds are against us. Debunking the “good mother” and “nice young lady” description. Not ending it in a happy or bad ending. Instead more like a story that is still developing just like our own lives. Demanding the need for us women, women of color, mothers becoming more supportive of one another. Supportive of our desires, dreams and pump the brakes on just pointing responsibility.
Aside from the story what I loved most was the book cover. I mean that thang is gorgeous! I could go on and on about this story but I will leave some room for the readers to find more nuggets within this story. As it was definitely one of those stories that you hated to reach the last page. There are tons of other subjects that can be unpacked in this book but then I would be giving the whole book away ha-ha. So just go read it already. Despues hablamos, ok?
Now, tell me have you ever read a story that made you cry, laugh, felt inspired and sad at the same time? If so, let me know in the comments I’d love to hear what they were and your thoughts behind them. If you read this story and felt the same; my friend (read it with a Hispanic accent) let’s talk. I hate to feel like I’m on this emotional island by myself. Also, feel free to share with a friend who has been on the fence about With The Fire On High or in need of a new contemporary YA to read.
Oh you thought we were done? No honey! Since this was part of the With the Fire On High blog tour I have two ARC or advanced reader copies to giveaway. Yasss honey you read that currently! I ordered my real copy of With The Fire On High (which is available everywhere where books are sold). So, si tu no tiene cuarto (if you don’t have money), this is your chance to get the advanced reader copies for free! Just enter the giveaway below by doing the following:
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If you one of the lucky winners you will be contacted via e-mail to request your personal information. Simple versed! Good luck mis amigos!
Additional With The Fire On High blog tour information below where you will find a series of information about the making of the book, reviews and so much more.
April 22 – Afire Pages | Welcome Post & BTS Look on the Cover Design Process
April 23 – Reading Peaches
April 24 – Shut Up, Shealea | Printable wallpapers/ bookmarks
April 25 – A Book Devourer | “The Life of Emoni; A Comparison”
April 26 – Bookish Wanderess
April 27 – Flipping Through the Pages
April 28 – Utopia State of Mind
April 29 – For the Love of Diversity in Books | Aesthetics + Quote Graphics
April 30 – The Royal Polar Bear Reads | Instagram Photos
May 1 – Endless Chapters | Recipe
May 2 – The Ultimate Fangirl
May 3 – The Wolf & Books
May 4 – Book Lover’s Book Reviews
May 5 – Weekend Reader | Cover Inspired Hairstyle
May 6 – The Writer and The Story | Favorite Quotes
May 7 – Themollyweather
May 8 – All Things Gene
May 9 – Darque Dreamer Reads
May 10 – Your Tita Kate
May 11 – Afergtale | “Stories Our Abuelas Wouldn’t Tell Today”
May 12 – F A N N A
Yes, you’ve read it right! This blog tour has giveawayS not just a giveaway. This post just keeps on giving huh? Enter below to enter and win a book or a shirt of With the Fire on High! You can enter not just on either but on BOTH giveaways. The giveaways are open internationally until May 22nd.
ENTER TO WIN A COPY OF WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH
ENTER TO WIN A WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH SHIRT
Shirt design by Melissa Chan, read more about her designs here.