otrbristol | 17th September 2020

OTR Book Club Blog: With the Fire on High

Hello and welcome back to another OTR Book Club blog post – a big thank you to Bryony for summarising the latest read from our Book Club.

Please note that our blogs contain spoilers, so if you’re either yet to read the book and/or don’t want plot reveals, stop in your tracks! SPOILERS AHEAD!

This month we discussed Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High, a young adult novel which follows the high school senior, Emoni, on her journey. She tries to juggle looking after her two-year old daughter, supporting her abuela, trying to finish high school, doing applications for college, navigating her feelings for the new boy at school and somehow, still managing to express herself through fantastic cooking, which some describe, as magical…

We started off discussing what we thought of the novel in general. Nat said she enjoyed it more that she thought she was going to at the start, as she thought it was going to be mostly focused on the cooking aspect! She shared that she thought it was a different change of pace and much less intense to the other books that we have read recently. Overall, Nat really liked it, although couldn’t relate to cooking but related to release of emotions! Sophie agreed that when she first stated reading, she thought it was going to be all about the cooking, but the more she read, the more it became about her having a great skill, and what this skill could do for her.

I think it was the consensus over the group that Emoni’s school cooking trip to Spain was our favourite part. Nat felt it was nice that we got to see a different side of her, and she thought that the author had really captured the holiday feeling of being free. Rose also like the bit about the trip and thought that we got to get to know her away from her family and binds she had. Sophie seconded this and said she liked getting to see the character away from her responsibilities and got to know her a bit more.

Something else I think we all agreed on, was that there were some very cliché parts! Personally, I felt how when Malachi joined the school and was very attractive and everyone fancied him, but Emoni wasn’t interested but she was the only girl he was interested in and of course they eventually got together… it was very typical of a teen storyline. Rose said she didn’t like the way that Malachi was described, for example touching Emoni’s curls and getting in her personal space; she found it very off-putting. Sophie said that she found Malachi and the love story there a bit boring, which I must agree with as it was predictable! He was just too nice really and said all the right things and made him too good to be true almost.

We then moved on to talk about the theme of the book and the struggles in portrayed of a young mother in school. Nat said that she thought the novel captured the feeling of the pressure of applying for colleges well and how this pressure was magnified by having to look after a young child at the same time. However, in the end she pretty much gets everything she wanted and ultimately there’s nothing for her to worry about. For example, the morning after she realised that she definitely couldn’t raise the money for her trip, she had $300 from her family in her bank account… Rose also said that the novel made it sound like she doesn’t have any weaknesses in the kitchen. For her, to make it interesting, she needed more conflicts, otherwise it’s a bit boring!  I thought that the novel was quite easy-going. And even during the more intense passages, I didn’t feel stressed as, the way that it was written, I knew that everything was going to work out. 

We then spoke about the end of the novel. Nat said that she was expecting a really dramatic thing to happen, but nothing did… there was no kind of pinnacle event of the book. Rose agreed and thought that the ending wrapped up a little bit too nicely. Like Nat mentioned earlier, she pretty much gets everything she wants! She gets the job in the restaurant, the boy, gets her grades, gets into college and even her grandmother finds a new man! Rose liked the journey but not the ending as Emoni didn’t have to compromise on anything and still gets everything she wants! She thought it had enough potential to be a really good thing but fell off the cliff. Sophie thought near the end of the novel, it was as if she was TRYING to make things worse for herself. For example, she didn’t go to prom as she didn’t have any money, but she definitely could have done it on a budget and worn an old dress? I agree that it seemed she was trying to martyr herself for no apparent reason. Sophie also thought that the novel tried to make out that even if you have a kid, it doesn’t ruin your life, but it misses reality of how hard it really does make your life. Again, at the close of the novel, she got everything she wanted, and everything fell into place and worked out. Sophie thinks that Emoni should have had to sacrifice something because of her child but that would have been ok because she loves her more than anything.

To close the session, we talked about how the novel touched on some deep issues but didn’t really explore them as much as we’d have liked. Sophie mentioned that the novel would have been good if we’d had different perspectives of the characters. There were a lot of depth and interest in the secondary characters, for example Malachi and his brother’s death and Pretty Leslie and her home life. Although, we did think that this would have drastically changed the tone of the overall novel. I think if the novel explored the issues as fully as we wanted, the novel would have been a huge read! (which personally I wouldn’t have minded!)


Join us next month when we will be discussing Rives Solomon’s The Deep. See you then!