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With the Fire on High

HarperCollins/Harper. May 2019. 400p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062662835.
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Gr 9 Up–The acclaimed author follows up her celebrated The Poet X with a love letter to food and a tribute to young, single mothers. Emoni Santiago is an Afro-Latinx high school senior in Philly who dreams up the most delectable concoctions, always mixing up tastes from her two cultures with a spice of her own. The news of a culinary arts course with a possible trip to Spain grabs her interest, but how will she juggle school, work, and taking care of her daughter? The young woman is barely balancing everything on her plate with the help of her talented best friend Angelica, ’Buela (her intractable grandmother), and occasional visits from her activist father (who moved to Puerto Rico after her mother’s death). Acevedo populates her first prose novel with complex and unforgettable characters and turns the stereotype of “teen mom” on its head. Emoni has to deal with daycare drop-offs, custody issues, and making ends meet alongside college applications, budding romances, and the high school rumor mill. Realistic dialogue and vulnerable interior monologues about sex, loss, and insecurities will ring true with all adolescents. The author expertly weaves Spanglish, toddler mom worries, and culinary lingo and aptly evokes the Philly and Spain settings, immersing readers in Emoni’s world. The novel’s three parts are introduced by recipes created and perfected by the protagonist, and hints of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate will leave teens hungry for more.
VERDICT Acevedo’s second serving offers a much-needed nuanced exploration of teen parenting that belongs on all shelves.

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