Strong relationships between women.
Being brave enough to chase your dreams.
A very sweet slow burn romance.
Gosh, I loved WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH by Elizabeth Acevedo. After my last read, which was excellent, but incredibly heavy, I needed the perfect pick me up. WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH absolutely delivers! Readers, I was absolutely smitten with the characters in this book -- it's just one of those reads with such heart, you can't help but smile as you're reading.
Acevedo has a delightfully fine handle on the characters in this book. Our protagonist Emoni is a senior in high school, who became pregnant her freshman year and has been raising her child alongside her 'Buela' ever since. Emoni's a gifted chef, but doesn't see a way to pursue that dream while also balancing being a responsible mother to her child and finishing her schooling. Enter in the senior elective class of Emoni's dreams -- a culinary arts class helmed by a strict, but professional chef. This is Emoni's first real introduction into culinary arts as a career beyond her passions and one she's hesitant to seize on. But since this is a feel-good book, Emoni takes the class (y'all, let me tell you I cheered when she made that choice).
WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH has a female forward cast of characters that you'll adore. There's Emoni, of course. Then there's 'Buela, Emoni's grandmother who raised Emoni and currently helps care for her grandchild, Babygirl. Then there's Angelica, Emoni's faithful best friend and godmother to Babygirl. And finally, there's Ms. Fuentes, the teacher who pushes Emoni to pursue her passions, against all the odds. These women have all been crucial parts of shaping the Emoni we see at the start of the book, as well as the person Emoni grows into at the end of the book. The female support in this book is beyond wonderful -- it truly feels like Emoni has her own coven of support and love despite the difficult decisions she faces.
I would be totally remiss if I neglected to mention the slow burn romance at the heart of this story. Y'all, it's really sweet! The boy in question has dimples, which Emoni says isn't a draw, but if you're a reader, you know that cute dimples on a boy never works out for the girl trying to avoid them. It's beyond refreshing to see the romance between Emoni and her man (no spoilers!) unfurl throughout the book because Emoni (a) deserves this thing that's just for her and (b) the dude is cute, patient, and in no mood to rush her. I'm here for healthy portrayals of romantic relationships!
Acevedo keeps it real through the book -- Emoni is faced with difficult, adult decisions and she struggles with anxiety, self-doubt, and fear which are emotions I think we all can relate to. It's scary to make choices for yourself, especially when there are other people in your life who could be affected! Despite this grounded approach to Emoni's story, Acevedo's written a story about hope and faith. Emoni has to find the faith in herself to not only make her dreams come true, but to believe she even has the right to pursue them.