With the Fire on High
The Tacoma Public Library's budget was cut dramatically this year, and last week they took a whole-system furlough, which means that not only were all staff on unpaid furlough and all buildings closed, but even the library's online services were suspended. The holds system only got half the memo, unfortunately: not one but TWO of the books I had on hold popped up as available the second day of the furlough, but then I couldn't check them out because that functionality was down--and by the time the furlough was over, the hold window had expired. Reader, I about screamed out loud.
So, that's the reason why I wasn't reading either THE EMPRESS OF SALT AND FORTUNE by Nghi Vo or THE FIFTH SEASON by N. K. Jemisin today. This book has been on my shelf for just about a year now--I had it out from the Remann Hall library to vet it for the book club for incarcerated teenagers there, and then the pandemic shut everything down. We haven't been able to visit the prison for a year, and I haven't been able to return the book. But at least now I've read it, and I can verify that it would be a great choice for the book club.
WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is extremely solid contemporary YA with Troubled Teens From the Hood, which is a genre that tends to be at least a little cheesy. There is some cheese in WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH, but it's all in recipes--the book is about cooking, and about how we love each other, and honestly it's pretty great on both fronts. It includes several actual recipes and an Afro-Boricua teen mom with a douchey baby-dad, a cutie boyfriend, and a lesbian best friend.
People are poor in the way that real people are poor (well, toward the end of the book it gets a little 'stop worrying about money and attend your prom,' which, I don't know if you've ever been too poor to attend group events but no amount of belief in your value as a human will make those dollars appear in your bank account. But then, actually, our hero chooses not to ask her grandma for money to attend prom, and as a fellow not-prom-attendee, I approve).
I did wish the small child was more of a character and less of a prop, but kids are hard to write. And the parent-child relationship our hero has with assorted adults in her life are explored in detail, so it's not like the book is lacking in Themes. I personally found the extremely short chapters to be a little annoying, but I think for teen readers it probably makes the book feel very accessible. I wanted the title to be a Baldwin reference, but in fact it's about cooking. Overall, this one gets an 'I'm not the intended audience but I can recognize quality.'