WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH by Elizabeth Acevedo

This is the second book I’ve read from Acevedo and I listened to both of them on audio. I believe she is an author that should not only be read, but be heard as well. Her reading is thick with a Dominican accent and her placement of words melt together like a cherished recipe, passed down from generation to generation, but mixed with individual style.

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is about the fictional character, Emoni Santiago, and takes place during her senior year in high school. During her freshman year, she had a baby girl and is balancing all the important parts of her life: school, being a mom, being a granddaughter, work schedules and navigating outside relationships. Her best friend, Angelica, is an encouraging and supportive friend, but Emoni’s soul belongs to cooking. She can feel the needs of a recipe and blends ingredients together so skillfully many people believe it is laced with magic. The word that kept coming to my mind while reading FIRE was vibrant. Vibrant family. Vibrant food. Vibrant friendships. Vibrant love. Vibrant writing. Surrounded by all this support and love, Emoni still struggles with what to do with her life. How does one plan for the future when the consequences of your past are always with you in the present. At her high school graduation she reflects:

And like a map I’ve been following without knowing the exact destination, I know now, I’ve been equipping myself with tools from the journey to help me survive when I arrive.

No matter your age, that is a sentiment that will resonate. Through struggles and hardship and triumphs and setbacks, we are equipping ourselves with the needed tools for our future selves.

The first book I read from Acevedo was THE POET X. I blogged about it last year and how much I enjoyed it. Especially as an audio. She will transport you with the lilt of her voice and place you firmly into the heart of her story. Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam champion and holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland.

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is listed as a Young Adult read from Harper Teen, but I wouldn’t shy anyone away from enjoying the deep heritage and stories held within Acevedo’s books. They are strong and descriptive and culturally driven. I can’t wait to read her latest book, CLAP WHEN YOU LAND.

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is a celebration of young, single mothers and the role models who help shape them as mamas and as independent female leaders. I highly recommend all three of Acevedo’s books. Having read two of the three, I have no doubt her third book is as engaging as the others.

Special kudos also to the amazingly illustrated book cover by Erick Davila and Erin Fitzsimmons. What a beautiful piece of art for my shelves. Artwork equal to the quality of words that reside within.

THE LOVE U GIVE

 

I spent the day reading THE HATE U GIVE. I would like to say it’s eerily ironic that the storyline is so similar to what’s going on in our world today, but it’s not ironic, is it? It’s the same horrific story, repeated over and over again.

This is a powerfully strong book that thankfully is listed as a young adult novel (warning for very young readers, the language is strong.) It should be required reading in all high schools and then reread as an adult. Thank you, Angie Thomas, for filling part of the darkness with truth.

So many things stood out in this book. The main character, Starr, is present during an illegal police shooting. She knows the truth and it forever changes her life as well as the people in her life. One sentence in particular challenged my own thinking as I watch the news:

“Khalil is a suspected drug dealer and unfortunately, the word ‘drug dealer’ will always be louder than ‘suspected’.”

So many people have read this 2017 bestseller but if you haven’t, move it up your list. It needs to be read. And now is the perfect time to challenge your thinking about racial injustice. “Racism isn’t about black versus white; it is about a lack of equal opportunities.”

An underlying element of this story stoked my long-held envy of the intricately knit together group of neighbors, family and friends of the black community. They truly embrace ‘it takes a village’ as they band together and march forward to a better future. We should all learn from their example.

I am left challenged and moved and encouraged and saddened by this book. Written in 2017, it is as relevant as this morning’s newspaper. Thank you thank you thank you, Angie Thomas, for bravely using your voice. #thuglife

EVERYWHERE YOU DON’T BELONG by Gabriel Bump

(Book Release date: February 4, 2020)⠀
Thank you, Algonquin Books for the honor of reading this debut novel.

As a white Midwesterner, I must say I felt a little voyeuristic peering into the world of a South Side Chicago teen as he navigated his way through life. ⠀

As I read EVERYWHERE YOU DON’T BELONG, I was repeatedly struck with how much mental fortitude can be cemented at a very early age. For some, strength and bravery are developed through strong family encouragement and societal achievements. For others, it is forged from repeated loss and boldly overcoming overwhelming obstacles.⠀

Often the media portrays life on the South Side of Chicago as either gang warfare or Michelle Obama. But where is the in-between? The place most urban Americans live? Author, Gabriel Bump takes us on a journey through the eyes of an everyday urban family living in a challenging neighborhood. He wanted his South Side readers to recognize themselves in his fictional (but true to life) story.⠀

The tempo of EVERYWHERE YOU DON’T BELONG moves at a fast clip. It’s a reading style that takes a second to get used to. But once you’re in the rhythm, good luck putting the book down. There are abrupt but brief jumps to the future weaved throughout the telling of this story of one young black man who can’t quite find his place in the world. Death and abandonment are reoccurring themes in this generational story. The sheer determination to do better boils underneath all the chaos.⠀

The time-period is predominantly during the Obama administration (a proud moment for any Chicagoan.) Change is promised but does the everyday black American see it? The main character is searching for the place where he belongs. It isn’t the civil-rights activism of his grandmother’s time but it also doesn’t seem to be in a college classroom either. He calls to question all of our individual stories of belongingness.⠀

Mixed with humor and racial integrity, EVERYWHERE will make you think, will awaken you to societies and cultures vastly different than your own, and will ultimately ask you how you find your own place in our world.⠀

This is a strong debut novel written from a place of knowing, believing and surviving.⠀