More often than not, when we hear about a teenage mother, we picture a broken girl whose life Is the embodiment of regret for obviously becoming ‘something’ beyond society’s built structure. We see someone whose life is on the path to ruin because they have done what society frowns on. We see a girl who has to drop out of school, start working at a very young age to fend for the sudden responsibility she has gotten for herself (because the baby daddy denied responsibility). We see a girl who would later in the future sit down, look back and see how backwards her entire life has moved because she gave birth at a young age. We picture a girl with a shattered dream, with no hopes for tomorrow.
Well, Elizabeth Acevedo tells us something different through her book, “With The Fire On High” and her lead character, Emoni. She takes our hands to the life of a teen mother whose life isn’t entirely the same as all the forenamed images of a teen mother. Worldwide, teenage pregnancy and teenage motherhood has been a cause for concern. Organisations, groups and individuals do their best to counter the canker, which is a good thing. But let’s talk about the stereotype and ostracization. Pregnant and parenting teens not only endure challenges associated with their early transition to parenthood but also are confronted with unfavourable attitudes of others. A lot of negative comments are hurled on these teen mothers. They are looked at like sin itself when they walk in public places. They are forced to curl up to a ball rather than fight for their dreams. They are treated differently, and mostly bad. The list can go on. But in “With The Fire On High”, we have a character who exists to prove us wrong…to fight for her ” life” or die trying…a character who isn’t ready to conform.
Usually, there is a notion that:
“Teen moms will never amount to anything”.
This is where Emoni gets up to hoist the red flag because she begs to differ! Talk about a very strong-willed character who is determined and with an inner fire on high. The entire book (or a majority of it) is about Emoni Santiago, an Afro-Latina teen mom in Philadelphia, living out her senior year of high school. Emma, her daughter, was born the summer after her freshman year.
Food is at the core of the novel.
Emoni has a natural gift for pairing flavours—especially Caribbean flavours—that do not usually go together, tweaking traditional recipes and making them her own.
Emoni has a gift. When she enters the kitchen, nothing she puts together in there comes out bad. Her food gives people not just a glorious taste on their tongues and a tummy fill but also remembrance and a sense of reminiscing.
Although Acevedo’s book tries to present a fresh, a very positive, perspective on teen parenthood, the struggles that come with being a teen mother weren’t hidden just to make a point. Emoni’s life is anything but easy as she tries to deduce how to be a mother and a ” normal” teenager and also figure out what she wants to do with her life. There is the tiredness that comes with juggling between school, work and taking care of her baby. There is the fear, at some point, of losing her daughter to the baby’s father. There is the struggle with academic work. You name them. The struggles are presented with all its truthfulness yet, Acevedo, more so Emoni, proves to us that there is a way and the way doesn’t always lead to a dark, gloomy end, full of regrets, a poor life on the streets with shuttered dreams. No, she shows us that with perseverance and hard work, one can achieve anything they put their minds to, teen mother or not.
To get us deep into the life of Emoni, we get brief chapters that are simply glimpses into Emoni’s character, and then get to continue with the journey simply knowing more about her. This makes ” With The Fire On High” is not a plot-driven book but a character-driven book. It is a stunning choice. The writing style is another stunning thing about the book. From an author who has her background from poetry and book already written in verse, you will expect nothing but an amazing weaving of words that flow into each other and blend beautifully.
Overall, With the Fire on High has an uncommonly warm-hearted charm that Boldly gives voice to young women whose stories are often dismissed and not told. It’s a unique, cheerful story. With all the food, the hopefulness that crusts the book, the fun time with each of the characters and how alive the story comes as you read, you can binge-read this book without feeling that you are reading. I binge-read, you would too. Just get a copy!