DC Reads: Adult Title Read-a-likes
This year’s DC Reads book, With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, follows high schooler and teen mom Emoni Santiago through senior year, as she balances school, work, Babygirl -- and figuring out her future. Lucky for her, she’s got support in the form of her loving ‘Buela and BFF Angelica, and she can always take comfort in the kitchen, where, as she says, “I do know I’m happier [...] than anywhere else in the world.”
Looking for more reads akin to With the Fire on High? Check out these adult novels and nonfiction titles, all of which echo or recall some element(s) of Emoni’s story -- and most of which, unless otherwise noted, are available through DCPL in ebook and/or eaudio (see links below or connect directly to OverDrive).
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Separated from Emoni’s world in time and place, Tita De La Garza -- the youngest daughter in a ranching family in turn-of-the-20th-century Mexico -- nonetheless similarly creates magic in the kitchen as she cooks food imbued with her own emotions that thereby stirs the feelings of those who eat it. And Tita is not short on emotions to communicate, as she comes of age grappling with the clash of familial expectations and romantic longing. Bonus: Like With the Fire on High, Esquivel’s novel also includes recipes throughout.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
As in With the Fire on High, an unexpected teenage pregnancy transforms the lives of a young mother, Iris, and her family members in a narrative that explores themes of race and gender, class and ambition, and youth and identity. Here, though, young father Aubrey and his family are explored with equal depth and detail, and the consequences of everyone’s choices throughout the years are depicted as baby Melody herself also eventually comes of age in the novel.
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
When the long-awaited opportunity arises, Patsy immigrates from her native Jamaica to New York in pursuit of economic prosperity and her young love Cicely -- but without her five-year-old daughter Tru, who is left to reckon with her mother’s decision, her own sexuality, and her tentative connection with her father. Patsy and Tru’s stories -- specifically, how they pursue self-preservation amid challenging circumstances -- recall Emoni and her father Julio.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Like Emoni, high schooler Nadia Turner faces an unexpected pregnancy. Aching with grief over her mother’s recent suicide and her own ambition to escape her close knit Southern California black community of faith, Nadia makes a different choice -- the impact of which resonates into adulthood for Nadia, as well as high school boyfriend Luke and best friend Aubrey, who each have their own individual youthful traumas with which to reckon as well.
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Admittedly, 22-year-old Tess’ life is very different from Emoni’s. Responsible only for herself, Tess comes to New York adrift yet quickly secures a backwaiter job at a lauded Manhattan restaurant. What echoes throughout both of their journeys, though, is the power of food -- and the significance of cooking as an art form. Plus, Tess' narrative takes a more adult look at the restaurant world, yielding both fascinating insider details -- and an exploration of often troubling power dynamics.
We Fed an Island by José Andrés with Richard Wolffe
Chef and humanitarian Andrés -- recently in the news for converting his restaurants to community kitchens and cooking an evening meal for DC firefighters -- here recounts his efforts in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, a disaster alluded to in With the Fire on High. Indeed, it’s easy to imagine Emoni and Julio connecting over this title in that it explores how Andrés made cooking (her passion) a form of activism (one of his) that made a real impact in the recovery effort in PR, a place of significance to them both.
Notes from a Young Back Chef by Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stein
DC residents might be familiar with the headline-making trajectory of the Shaw Bijou, but here the chef behind that restaurant, Kwame Onwuachi, tells his own story. Encompassing his journey from a turbulent childhood in which he was sent from his home in the Bronx to family in Nigeria to a young adulthood in which he dealt drugs to his ultimate commitment to cooking and career as a chef, Onwuachi’s narrative is relevant to Emoni’s story particularly in its exploration of race in the world of fine dining.
¡Manteca!: An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ Poets edited by Melissa Castillo-Garsow
Compelled by slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo’s prose style? Already devoured her National Book Award-winning previous novel-in-verse The Poet X? Take a deep dive into other Afro-Latin voices in this expansive anthology, which features the work of 40 poets whose work spans 50 years and explores diverse topics that range from immigration and institutional racism to music and family. (Please note that this title is only available from DCPL as a physical title.)
We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood by Dani McClain
Babygirl and her role as a mother are central to Emoni’s story, and she reflects -- perhaps most memorably in a scene on the bus when she proudly identifies Babygirl as her daughter (not her sister) -- on how her race impacts how others see her in this role. While Dani McClain’s circumstances vary from Emoni’s, her insights on the specific challenges she and her daughter face amid systemic racial injustice similarly resonate and enlighten. (Please note that this title is only available from DCPL as a physical title.)
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Name checked by Emoni as one of her resources for sharpening her cooking skills, Anthony Bourdain also echoes Chef Ayden when he shares in his bestselling memoir his advice for new chefs: “Show up at work on time six months in a row and we'll talk about red curry paste and lemon grass. Until then, I have four words for you: ‘Shut the f--- up.’” Bourdain’s honest and vibrant writing style is on display throughout this look into his wild life as a professional chef -- and in his other books as well.