- Teen Agency
400 Pages; Cloth, $17.99
"It takes a village to raise a novel."—Elizabeth Acevedo
With Fire on High is a Young Adult novel that takes the genre to new frontiers. Within the last decade, the lacking representation of brown characters in Young Adult Literature started a conversation and movement. Readers and authors alike called for more diverse characters in this genre in order to give young people of various backgrounds different perspectives and perhaps ones that more closely resembled their own experiences. There was and is now a calling for Latinx character focalization and narrative that enhances and challenges what it means to be brown in the minds of today's reading population. This call helps give Latinx readers an in and see themselves also as the strong main characters that gain close friendships, defeat bad guys, and save the world, just like the Katniss's and Harry Potters that came before. The author, Elizabeth Acevedo, not only complicates who can be the main character in a predominately white space because of the color of their skin, but she also spins a more positive outlook on other marginalized identity markers—teen motherhood. Taking on these marked identities, Acevedo incorporates Puerto Rican culture into modern US territory, challenging readers to rethink what being Afro-Latina and a teen mom but still just a teen means.
The novel tells the story of Emoni, a senior in high school who had a baby at the end of her freshman year. Emoni is a black-Puerto Rican who has a knack and talent for cooking. Her story begins with her believing her wants and needs are no longer valid because it is always what and only is best for her daughter Emma. This dichotomy makes what others suggest—to put herself first, in order to later better care for her daughter—difficult to consider. Her teachers want her to go to college; her 'buela wants her to stay in better touch with her absent father; her best friend wants her to take a cooking class rather than study hall. Yet, she constantly makes excuses, thinking a job straight out of high school is the best way to go. And while this path is a
With Fire on High takes Young Adult Literature to new limits—creating a space for Latinx identities where they were once absent.
common mindset for Latinx teens, the novel gently takes up the importance of high education without coming across as preachy or forceful. By the end of the novel, Emoni realizes her potential and allows herself to choose a path that is not just ultimately better in the long run for her daughter but also for her.
A strength the novel carries is the narrative use of a teen mom character to represent the brown teen experience in a positive light. At first, it seems Acevedo's choice in representing Emoni as a teen-mom works against a positive representation of young brown identities. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, in 2017 Latinx females ages fifteen to nineteen had the highest rate of childbearing among the top racial categories. So, while this trope might be an accurate representation of teen parents by racial category, it also holds certain advantages for Emoni, which aids her in asserting agency.
In a central chapter in the novel, "I Been Grown," the reader discovers how empowered Emoni became after the birth of her daughter, which at the same time also casts this brown characterization in a positive light. Emoni presents herself as a mature caretaker, always putting her daughter front and center. Since she was the one who ultimate made the decision to keep the baby, even when the "wiser" characters felt differently, it signifies a decision she alone could process and make. When thinking back to this decision, she says, "And I realized there wasn't going to be a perfect answer, only the right answer for me." Acevedo explores teen agency through Emoni here, demonstrating capacity and an awareness of consequences even in adolescence. Emoni's thoughtfulness on...