With the Fire On High

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Emoni Santiago is starting her senior year of high school and she has some battles to fight.  Some of her battles are inside herself and some of her battles are in the world of her school, her family, her ex-boyfriend and the new guy who wants to be friends.

Emoni loves to cook so when she finds out she can enroll in a culinary arts class at her high school, she takes the risk and signs up for it.  She already has a part-time job at a burger joint to help pay the bills at home.  She already has a toddler, Emma, otherwise known as BabyGirl who is the light of her life.  She already has an ex-boyfriend, Emma's father, who comes in and out of her life.  Now, she has a new guy, Malachi, who walked into the culinary arts class and clearly has his eye on her.

How will Emoni find her way through her senior year with all the college applications, the struggle for money, the decisions about choosing to have another relationship with a guy?   How can she figure out who she is and what she wants to do with her life?

This is a journey through a high school senior year through the eyes and heart of a girl who walked the halls of Schomburg Charter High School pregnant at the age of 14.  This is the journey of a girl who lost her mother when she was born and whose father comes in and out of her life like he's taking commercial breaks.  This is the journey of a girl who is born to cook and who has passed by some of the rituals of being a teenager and taken some giant leaps into who she'll be as a woman.

The story offers occasional glimpses into the prejudice seen in the eyes of others and into the walls and risks that are in front of all of us.  Emoni's strength shines.  A wonderful story about becoming.

400 pages          978-0062662835          Ages 14 and up

Recommended by:  Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com

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From the New York Times bestselling author of the National Book Award longlist title The Poet Xcomes a dazzling novel in prose about a girl with talent, pride, and a drive to feed the soul that keeps her fire burning bright.

Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions—doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness.

Even though she dreams of working as a chef after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet despite the rules she thinks she has to play by, once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.--from the publisher

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“My grandmother chose to raise me when my father settled me on her lap, asking her to watch me for a while, and then left the hospital. ‘A while’ became seventeen years. It was in that exchange of my body from his hands to hers that the entire course of my life changed.

People say that you’re stuck with the family you’re born into. And for most people, that’s probably true. But we all make choices about people. Who we want to hold close, who we want to remain in our lives, and who we are just fine without. I choose not to dwell on my father’s rotating-door style of parenting, and instead reflect on my grandmother’s choice to not only bring me home from the hospital and raise me, but also to offer me a fighting chance.

The world is a turntable that never stops spinning; as humans we merely choose the tracks we want to sit out and the ones that inspire us to dance.”

Emoni Santiago’s first time--at age 14--is certainly in the running for one of the most uncomfortable and unfulfilling consensual sexual experiences imaginable. And it resulted in the unexpected conception of her daughter, Emma. Emoni and the baby’s father Tyrone did not stay together, and they have a somewhat tense co-parenting relationship.

Emoni’s mother died when she was a toddler and her father lives in Puerto Rico, so her paternal grandmother, who raised Emoni, is now also helping raise her daughter.

Emoni continues to attend high school and work a part-time restaurant job. She has grown up displaying talent for understanding the interplay of ingredients and preparing delicious meals. That’s why, before Babygirl came along, Emoni dreamed of attending culinary school.

When her high school offers a new culinary arts class, Emoni gets her first opportunity to work with a real chef. She begins learning the discipline and basics that will provide the framework necessary to successfully employ her creative instincts in commercial kitchens.

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH showcases Emoni’s challenge to keep all the balls in the air: care for Emma; get along with Tyrone; maintain academic success; nurture her lifelong friendship with Angelica; and develop a friendship (or more) with her new classmate and fellow aspiring chef Malachi Johnson. She is also chairing the student fundraising committee raising funds for a trip to Spain that is part of the  culinary arts curriculum. And she also needs to squeeze in time to work on college application essays.

I love that this tale about a struggling teen is a success story. Emoni’s child is happy and healthy. Emoni has good relationships with her father and Abuela. She does a great job of maintaining the important parenting relationship with Tyrone, despite his displeasure over her new relationship with Malachi. She gets a few good breaks, thanks to her work ethic and talent.

And, as she graduates high school, she successfully brainstorms a sustainable path toward achieving her dreams.

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is a cautionary tale, in regard to teens having sex. But, more importantly, it is a book that shows teens that, even if you are handed some breathtaking challenges, it’s often possible to overcome them with organization, hard work, and the support of loving friends and family.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS

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