When I heard Elizabeth Acevedo read at last year’s inaugural Bronx Book Festival, I understood exactly why The Poet X was as important and astounding as the author herself. It wasn’t just an authentic narrative for authenticity’s sake, but a work of beauty particularly for women of color meant to inspire them to find their voices and paths. It took my breath away.
With The Fire on High was similar – a beautiful page-turner. I couldn’t wait to share with y’all that I got the assignment of a lifetime to write about it for the New York Times Book Review. Below is an excerpt, but if you read the whole thing, I’d love to hear your feedback — especially if you’ve read the book, which you should definitely get a copy of.
Xiomara is like the more subdued fictive kin of Emoni Santiago, the self-possessed heroine of Acevedo’s second novel, WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH (HarperTeen, 400 pp., $17.99; ages 13 and up). A talented aspiring chef and unapologetic teenage mother, Emoni is as stubbornly committed to following her dreams as Xiomara is, but she cares less about other people’s perceptions. Anchored by her baby girl, Emma, and her grandmother Gloria (whom she calls ‘Buela), Emoni is sure of everything except whom she can trust as she chases her dream of running her own kitchen.
The nomenclature theme nods to Emoni’s maturity and integrity, and her attention to detail. She knows her own name is a signifier of her Afro-Latinx identity; “Emma,” on the other hand, “is the kind of name that didn’t tell you too much before you met her, the way mine does,” Emoni tells us. “Because nobody ever met a white girl named Emoni, and as soon as they see my name on a résumé or college application they think they know exactly what kind of girl they getting.”
What a wrong assumption. “Information ain’t free, so my daughter’s name wasn’t going to tell anybody any information they didn’t earn.”