Senior year is a year of changes for Emoni Santiago, and she’s a person who has already lived through some things. A teen mother who never knew her own mother, she’s always had to be responsible and make sure that she thinks of family first. When she enrolls in a culinary arts class and meets a charming new student, Emoni struggles with the chance to expand her dreams and her trust.
With the Fire on High tells very real stories with a respect for teens and for their skills and agency. No one is magical–everyone has very honest flaws and humanity (I especially appreciated this in the rendering of Abuela–who isn’t a superhuman wise caregiver–she’s a human being with her own fears and needs and abilities and regrets). Emoni herself is a wonderful character–self-doubting without being neurotic–a great parent and friend with a gift of making food that tastes like love and memories. While all the characters are very real, the book has just that touch of magic or deus ex machina that warms the heart and the hope.
Emoni’s first person narration, which makes up the bulk of the book, contributes to an enjoyable listening experience, but more than that, this title just flows. Acevedo nails that difficult trick of rendering conversations and many characters’ voices without ‘doing voices’–and yet the individuals are each fully realized and distinctive.
Acevedo’s voice is that of a true storyteller–a gift of sharing as rich as Emoni’s gift with spice blends. With the Fire on High is pure pleasure to listen to–funny, engaging, intense, and, well, tasty. It made me want to turn on the oven, to hug my family, listen to some good music, and to make some hard decisions. It’s right.
With the Fire on High, by Elizabeth Acevedo, read by the author. 7 hours, 27 minutes. HarperAudio, 2019.
Katya Schapiro is a Senior Children’s librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. Some of her first literary loves were audiobooks (on vinyl!), and she remains a voracious listener of radio plays and audiobooks. Originally trained as an actor, she relishes the nuances and the production values of the rapidly expanding audiobook world. Katya also blogs for Guessing Geisel, and reviews for School Library Journal. @KatyaSchapiro