82 pages 2 hours read

Elizabeth Acevedo

With the Fire on High

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2019

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Character Analysis

Emoni Santiago

Seventeen-year-old high school student Emoni Santiago is the central character and narrator of With the Fire on High. As she says at the start of the novel, “I have magical hands when it comes to cooking” (16-17). Emoni has an intuitive understanding of flavor and cooks delicious food for friends and family inspired by her Puerto Rican heritage. However, she faces many challenges. Emoni’s dreams of becoming a chef are hindered by the fact that she is a single mother. Her child’s father, Tyrone, is mostly absent, as is her own father, who returned to Puerto Rico after the death of her mother in childbirth. She is helped by her grandmother, Gloria, whom she lives with. Nonetheless, the economic and psychological demands of looking after a two-year-old make it difficult to attend a college cooking course. Indeed, as she says, “I’d rather save money for my daughter’s college tuition instead of my own” (124).

Emoni begins to see a way to overcome these challenges when she enrolls in a culinary arts class at school. Despite some early setbacks and frustrations, she learns there how she can harness and develop her innate talent to potentially pursue a career as a chef. A chance meeting with the head female chef at Café Sorrel, a high-class restaurant, further inspired her.