Unpopular opinions | With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

With the Fire on HighEmoni has only really loved two things: her daughter and cooking. When her high school announces a new culinary arts course, it seems tailor-made for Emoni. Unfortunately, the chef who’s teaching the course seems a little more interested in how precisely Emoni can stick to the recipe than he is in actually making food that tastes good. Not only is her culinary class going poorly, but as a senior Emoni is feeling pressure from all sides to decide what she wants to do after high school. Balancing education with her passion for food and her responsibilities as a teen mom may prove to be more than Emoni can handle right now.

TL;DR – I know everyone loves this book, but for me it was just okay. I questioned many of the MC’s decisions and that made things less enjoyable for me.

Purchase: Hardcover | eBook

I was so excited for this book–anticipation was at an all-time high. Unfortunately, it just hasn’t done it for me. I know, I know, everyone else LOVES this book *shrugs*. Let’s start with the things I liked. Emoni’s passion for cooking is amazing. I loved all of the scenes where she’s cooking. She’s an extremely likable character and I enjoyed her relationships with her grandmother, Emma, and her friend Angelica. I also thought Chef Ayden was a gem–one of the few characters who displays some common sense in this book imo. As a new-ish mom, I especially appreciated Emoni’s interactions with her daughter. I could feel the love she has for Emma on a really deep level.

Things I didn’t like so much…basically any decision that Emoni made. First, she has this weird combination of extreme short-sightedness (NEEDING to go on the Spain trip and going out after school without telling her grandmother) and being really concerned with Emma’s future. Like…you have a kid, but you thought you could just go get ice cream after school without telling anyone? Come on. Also, how does she expect to hold a job at a restaurant if she can’t make herself follow a recipe in class when she has been EXPLICITLY TOLD TO DO SO. Again, come on. It is literally ridiculous. Contradictions abound.

I also didn’t love the way she was with her grandma in relation to watching Emma. She talks like she’s trying to be considerate, but all of her actions are super inconsiderate (see ice cream after school above). I thought Emoni’s relationship with Malachi was pretty flat as well. Malachi’s initial attraction to Emoni was 100% based off of her looks–that just rubbed me the wrong way. And then Emoni is talking about how she doesn’t want to be in a relationship right now and she needs to let Malachi know in no uncertain terms that this thing isn’t happening. But then she goes out for ice cream with him! I’m realizing now that I just had A LOT of issues with the ice cream date scene. Just…again, a lot of contradictions. Maybe this is just the reality of being a teenager? I really wanted Emoni to be more firm as far as Malachi was concerned and also to have like…two ounces of common sense. One for her, one for her daughter. Alas, her willpower to stay out of a relationship with Malachi proved to be tissue paper thin.

I feel like I might take some heat over this last issue, but I’ll try to explain myself the best way I can. This book has an unmistakable urban feel to the writing and dialogue and that’s just not something that I feel super comfortable reading. When trying to explain this to my husband, I compared it to reading classic books. The language of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, etc. is just different from what I’m used to reading and speaking. That makes it harder for me to read those books. I can’t slip into them as easily and get lost in the story. That’s how books that are more urban feel for me as well. The language and feel don’t come as naturally for me and so reading a book like this doesn’t feel smooth. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but I felt the same way about The Hate U Give as well. Does that make sense? Obviously, I realize that for a lot of people this does feel more natural. And for others, they’re looking for books like this to mix things up with what they usually read–they want something different and perhaps more difficult. At this point in my reading life, I’m looking for books that I can easily get lost in and this didn’t check that box for me.

In this case, the fact that the book was harder for me to get into plus my issues with Emoni made the entire reading experience less enjoyable than I thought it would be. I was so excited for this book but ultimately feel some disappointment.

Overall Rating: 3.5
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Moderate

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Food and drama and family, oh my | Love á la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm [ARC]

Love a la ModeRosie and Henry are both on their way to Paris to live at the Ecole. It’s a culinary high school for teens around the world who love to cook. Rosie is from a small town in Ohio and isn’t sure if she really belongs at the Ecole since her passion is baking, not cooking. Henry is from Chicago and just wishes that his mom would get off his back and let him do what he loves–cook. Both Henry and Rosie will need to prove to themselves that they really belong in Paris and along the way, they may find something else as well–it is the city of love after all.

TL;DR – Loved the food aspect, but everything else (characters, drama) felt exaggerated and shallow.

I really, REALLY liked the premise of this book. I’m not an awesome cook or anything, but I can appreciate good food and I love watching Food Network. Honestly, this book read like it was written by somebody who also just enjoys watching Food Network and doesn’t know much about the culture of cooking, etc. The main characters were in awe of a chef who won Chopped four times…I just have a hard time believing that’s actually what Michelin star winning chefs actually care about. I also questioned teenagers being sent to Paris for high school? But I guess people send their kids to boarding schools all the time, so maybe it’s not that weird.

The characters were okay for me. They seemed relatively immature and there was a bit of an instalove component between Henry and Rosie. I thought the friend group had the potential to have a great dynamic, but in the end it fell kind of flat for me. I felt like each secondary character was a stereotype or caricature of their culture…they all just felt so exaggerated.

Plotwise, again, the book was just okay. The drama between Henry, Rosie, and Bodie felt SUPER fabricated. Henry and Rosie are pretty much with each other 24/7 and they can’t find two seconds to talk and clear the air? I also didn’t appreciate how angry Henry would get at Rosie doing things with Bodie. Henry and Rosie weren’t actually dating and Rosie doesn’t owe him ANYTHING. I mean, she does end up liking Henry, but even if she did like Bodie, Henry has NO RIGHT to be upset about that.

The last criticism I have is how the author treated Henry’s “tiger mom”. Henry is Korean and his mom is super involved with his academics–even going as far as to email his teachers in Paris. To me, it feels like an Asian tiger mom can really be portrayed in a bad light and I feel like Henry’s mom was mostly portrayed negatively in this book. I feel like the tiger mom thing was used as a plot device to inject more drama into the story. Henry’s mom felt like just another character exaggeration and I didn’t really appreciate that coming from a white author.

Overall, this book was just okay. I liked the descriptions of food (hard to go wrong there), but the book itself didn’t really have any weight or depth. I’d probably advise a pass on this one.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: None
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.