DC Reads - Special Edition

DC Reads - Special Edition

One City. One Book. One Great Read.


DC Reads is a DC Public Library program that promotes reading for pleasure by having citywide conversations for teens and adults focused on a single book. This month, the Library is delighted to read with you With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo. Unlimited eBook copies are available for download on OverDrive. Join the conversation by using the hashtag #DCReads on Twitter.

Temporary cards, which are valid for 90 days and can be used for all digital resources, can be obtained online
About the book (Appropriate for young adults and adults)

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.

About the author
Elizabeth Acevedo is a New York Times bestselling author of The Poet X and With the Fire on High. Her critically-acclaimed debut novel, The Poet X, won the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. She is also the recipient of the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction, the CILIP Carnegie Medal, and the Boston Globe-Hornbook Award. Additionally, she was honored with the 2019 Pure Belpré Author Award for celebrating, affirming, and portraying Latinx culture and experience.  
Her books include Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes 2016), The Poet X (HarperCollins, 2018), & With The Fire On High (HarperCollins, 2019). She holds a BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. Acevedo has been a fellow of Cave Canem, Cantomundo, and a participant in the Callaloo Writer’s Workshops. She is a National Poetry Slam Champion, and resides in Washington, DC with her love.

Live Author Talk via Zoom

To wrap up the Library's special edition of DC Reads, join us for an online conversation with author Elizabeth Acevedo this Saturday, April 4 at 2 p.m. We will discuss the final part of With the Fire on High and hear directly from Acevedo on her work. We are so proud to have Acevedo as a member of DC's literary community.

Online Discussions: Saturdays, March 21 and 28 at 2 p.m.

Join us on Saturdays at 2 p.m. for a live Twitter chat focused on With the Fire on High. Each chat will focus on a different section of the book though participants are welcome to read ahead.

We will also post individual discussion questions on Twitter each Tuesday and Thursday morning starting on March 24. 

Further Reading

If you enjoyed the book, here are lists for further reading, hand-selected by DC Public Library staff.

Discussion Guide(s)

Questions from March 28 Twitter discussion:

  • If Part 1 explored the ideas of Emoni’s identity and assumptions people make about her, Part Two finds Emoni (and those closest to her) looking more to the future and figuring out what they want for themselves. What are some moments where we see Emoni and others figuring out who they want to be and how they get there?
  • We spend more time with Chef Ayden. Emoni skips class for over a week, but when she returns Chef Ayden’s response is to assign her to lead the fundraiser for the Spain trip. Why? What has changed for Emoni?
  • Not long before she returns to class, ‘Buela takes Emoni and Babygirl to Cafe Sorrel for a special meal. This is a particularly long chapter in the story. Why do you think that is?
  • While Emoni is growing in her skills as chef, she continues to work at the Burger Joint. What does she learn from working in a fast food restaurant different from her culinary arts training? How would you compare her relationship with each of her supervisors in those two settings?
  • While we’re on the subject, what moments in the Culinary Arts class trip to Spain stood out for you? Why? What did the trip bring out in Emoni? Pretty Leslie? Malachi?
  • Emoni’s father is not totally supportive of the Spain trip. Why? What other discussions of social justice come up like this?
  • Throughout Part Two, we see Emoni’s relationships with challenging people in her life (Tyrone and his mother, Pretty Leslie) evolve. What does Emoni learn as she navigates these relationships? Did the developments in these relationships surprise you?
  • The recipe that opens this section suggests listening to Cardi B and Rihanna while preparing. What music do you listen to while cooking?
  • Also, Acevedo shared a playlist with us including Cardi B’s Get up 10 and Rihanna’s Neverending. Any playlists giving you life right now?
  • Acevedo also suggested book titles including “Like Water for Chocolate” by Laura Esquivel, North of Happy by Adi Alsaid, and Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley. What are your suggestions. 

Questions from March 21 Twitter discussion:

  • The book tells the story of Emoni Santiago, a high school student, parent of a toddler, and budding chef. We see Emoni grapple with the difference between what others assume about her and what she knows about herself. What are some memorable moments where she lays out these differences and how she feels about them? 
  • Food is obviously a huge theme in the book.What do we learn about Emoni’s love of food and cooking early on? What does it tell us about the different strands of her family identity? What is it like for her to go from a self-trained cook to a student in a more formal culinary kitchen.
  • One of the first events in the book is Emoni’s teacher Ms. Fuentes suggesting the culinary arts class to her. Her new culinary arts teacher Chef Ayden also becomes a big influence on her. How do teachers or other adults in her life influence her decisions? What is it like for her to have a teacher telling her how to cook for the first time
  • This is a YA novel, and Emoni’s age is central to her narrative. How are the challenges and opportunities she faces unique to her age? What about them are timeless? And how does age factor into the rest of the novel -- for instance, in terms of ‘Buela’s character?
  • Acevedo’s poem “Afro-Latina” explores some of themes of identity that come up in the book. How does the poem relate to Emoni’s experience.
  • Philadelphia is a vibrant part of Emoni’s life. How does where Emoni lives affect her? How does your DC neighborhood affect your life?
  • The title comes from this quote: “Some days, when my feelings are like this, like a full pot of water with the fire on high, I don’t know what to cook. Plans and ideas escape my mind and instead I let my heart and hands take control, guided by a voice on the inside that tells me what goes where.” How does that play out in Emoni’s decisions.
  • The title of the first section of the book is “Sour.” Why do you think that is?

Questions for Group Discussion: Please also use this discussion guide prepared by Amanda Torres for Harper Teen publishing. 

  • Booktalk - Anyone who tastes Emoni’s cooking calls it magic, and it just might be. However, the ingredients she has to work with are challenging: Emoni is a senior in high school with a two-year-old daughter, a part-time job, and no time for new friends or extracurricular activities like culinary class. She works hard to keep her head up and must make difficult decisions every day for her daughter and abuela. But there is a wild dream stirring inside her and the possibility of a lifetime in front of her. Will Emoni play it safe? Or will she take a leap of faith and make her dreams of becoming a professional chef come true?
  • Duende. Describe Emoni’s relationship with cooking. In what ways is Emoni “full of duende. Of inspiration and passion” (p. 346)? How does the way Emoni is feeling affect her food? How does the author describe Emoni’s cooking and its effect on people? Do you think Emoni’s food is magical?
  • Home. How does Emoni describe Philadelphia throughout the book? Where is home for you? What makes it home? On the last day of the trip to Spain, Emoni says “Maybe that’s the point of a trip like this; you start the process of learning and then you carry it with you back home” (p. 341). In what ways does being in Spain make Emoni feel more “free” to say, think, and do what she hasn’t felt able to do at home? What does Emoni learn about herself in Spain that she brings back home with her?
  • Chosen Family. When reflecting about family, Emoni says, “People say that you’re stuck with the family you’re born into ... 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” (p. 60). Who are the people that Emoni chooses as family? What makes her choose them? Who are the people you choose as your family? What makes you choose them?
  • Motherhood. Early on, Emoni characterizes Babygirl as “front and center, the candlelight we read the world by” (p. 53). Who is the “we” that Emoni describes? How does Emoni feel about being Babygirl’s mom? In what ways does Emoni put her daughter “front and center”? What are the difficult relationships that Emoni has to navigate because of her daughter?
  • Limitations and Possibilities. What are some
    of the things that limit Emoni’s ability to live the life she wants and to pursue her dreams? How
    are these limitations connected to race, class, and gender? What “leaps of faith” does Emoni take in order to create more possibilities for herself? What are the resources and people that support and encourage her to take those leaps? What are your dreams? Do they feel possible? Why or why not?