Book Review: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Listening to an audiobook is a different experience than turning pages. I started listening to audiobooks on long commutes back in 2015 and I never looked back. While it isn’t the same as moving at your own pace, mentally drowning out the world around you with a paper book, it’s immersive in its own way, and I’ve come to enjoy it.

Narrators often add a certain tangible quality to books. Especially when read by the author. I know, without a doubt, exactly how the author’s words are meant to sound. I hear the book exactly as the author heard it in their head while writing. I can hear their passion, their emotions. I am sitting in quiet conversation with them. The two of us, on a park bench, chatting.

And this audiobook, this story, With the Fire on High, narrated by the author, Elizabeth Acevedo, will remain one of my all-time favorites.

With the Fire on High is the story of a teen mom, Emoni, who loves to cook. The food she prepares brings back old forgotten memories in those who eat it. Like the novel/movie Like Water for Chocolate, The Fire On High, is magical realism at its finest.

Emoni and I come from two different worlds, but she is real and relatable to me. I relate to Emon as a Mom and I relate to her as a person of color. Her thoughts, personality, and fire are brought to life through Acevedo’s mellow, but strong voice.

This story captures everything I love about YA. Young love, tough life decisions, supportive friends, and a passionate protagonist.

A lot of YA literature of today promotes unrealistic relationships between teens. I often find myself rolling my eyes at the following overused trope: A teen girl falls in love with a douche bag who eventually stops emotionally abusing her and falls desperately in love. Barf!

Acevedo’s portrayal of teen relationships, however, is realistic without being preachy. As an adult looking back, I could reflect on my relationships past and present as I read the story. Emoni’s experiences reminded me of my own; and I think YA readers will find them authentic.

My favorite element/theme of the book was the way Acevedo depicted the complicated nature of belonging to more than one culture: being Black, Afro-Latina, American, without beating us over the head with it. A multi-cultured identity is the norm in America these days… But it’s nice to read about a girl whose primary struggle isn’t about her race. Our skin color, how America sees us, is not a BIPOC’s only identity. We also identify by our relationships with others, with what drives us.

Not only is this a great story I devoured in a few days, this book is an excellent study for an aspiring author. I praise the depth of Acevedo’s characters, use of magical realism, pacing, style, and themes. The author’s use of language, both English and Spanish, is beautiful, direct and clear. The poetry and metaphors in the story blew me away.

This book is so good, it simultaneously makes me want to quit writing forever because the canon of BIPOC is now complete, and keep writing and pushing because we need more stories like this.

Thank you, Elizabeth Acevedo for this story, and for narrating it yourself.

5/5 Stars

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