Hardships of Teenage Motherhood

With the Fire on High By Elizabeth Acevedo



In With the Fire on High, author Elizabeth Acevedo emphasizes the theme of sacrifice to prompt the reader to examine the hardships of teenage motherhood.

Teenage motherhood puts young women in difficult financial, social, and emotional situations. Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High focuses on the obstacles that Emoni Santiago encounters after giving birth as a freshman in high school. An overwhelming majority of teenage mothers are Hispanic, African American, or from low-income families, and Emoni, Black and Puerto Rican, is a microcosm of these statistics.

With a limited, but dedicated, support system, Emoni must learn to manage all of her responsibilities as a mother, student, and granddaughter. In With the Fire on High, author Elizabeth Acevedo emphasizes the theme of sacrifice to prompt the reader to examine the hardships of teenage motherhood.

Raised by her grandmother, Emoni had to learn to be independent and responsible at a young age. These proved to be crucial characteristics for Emoni when she and her boyfriend, Tyrone, had a baby named Emma. Since Emoni and Tyrone live in different parts of Philadelphia, Emoni is left with full custody of Emma. With three years left of high school and a reliant infant, Emoni struggles to balance her school work, her job, and her responsibility of caring for Emma.

To escape from her hectic life, Emoni spends her rare free time cooking in the kitchen. Putting her own interests first for once, Emoni decides to enroll in a culinary arts course at her high school. During this course, Emoni encounters a difficult situation when she learns of a class culinary trip to Spain.

Ultimately, Emoni must also decide whether she will attend college or begin working immediately after high school. Reading about the difficult decisions and sacrifices Emoni must make influences the reader to consider how grueling it is to be a teenage mother. In this book, Acevedo aims to bring attention to the difficulties of teenage parenting.

With the Fire on High is an extremely eye-opening novel because it shows readers how mature and responsible teenage parents must be. I was stunned by all of the responsibilities Emoni has to manage as a mother. Most high school students have trouble adapting to their new responsibilities; Emoni has to learn to care for herself and a child. Emoni struggles with the fact that she can sign permission slips for Emma but not herself (Acevedo 251).

This reminds her that while she must be accountable for her daughter, some people doubt her ability to care for herself. During high school, Emoni has to make sacrifices in order to put Emma’s well-being ahead of her own. Emoni’s sacrifices and responsibilities depict the hardships of teenage motherhood.

By making readers sympathize with Emoni, Acevedo is exceedingly effective in showcasing the obstacles associated with being a teenage parent. Acevedo mainly achieves this compassion and awareness by including examples of profound sacrifices Emoni makes. As a high school senior, she is ecstatic when she gets accepted into the culinary program at Drexel University, but she contemplates whether it is the best decision for her future. In a conversation with her grandmother, Emoni ponders, “Doesn’t it make more sense for me to get a job instead of going into debt?” (Acevedo 353).

Eventually, Emoni, her grandmother, and Tyrone make arrangements to care for Emma so that Emoni can attend college part-time and also work in the kitchen of a nearby restaurant. It is clear that Emoni embodies her role as a mother by being willing to sacrifice what is most important to her for the sake of her daughter. As a high school student, I could not imagine having to consider putting my future on hold to care for someone.

Another significant sacrifice Emoni makes is deciding to attend the culinary arts class trip to Spain. Emoni is forced to determine whether she can spend a week away from Emma. When she eventually decides to go to Spain, Emoni realizes the difficulty of spending so much time away from her young daughter. While in Spain, Emoni expresses her desire to reunite with Emma: “I think about Babygirl. How I wake up every day expecting to see her crib and how it clogs my throat with tears not to be near her” (Acevedo 119). As a mother, Emoni has obligations to take care of Emma, and she becomes attached to her. Acevedo includes Emoni sacrificing time with Emma to show that motherhood is a taxing but rewarding full-time job.

Throughout the novel, Acevedo does an excellent job enhancing readers’ understanding of the hardships of being a teenage mother. Readers learn of the responsibilities that parenthood entails. It is also shocking how teenagers are often not responsible enough to take care of themselves, but teenage mothers must also care for their children. Understanding all of the obstacles encountered by teenage mothers helps readers realize how remarkable it is for young mothers to finish high school and college. Acevedo accomplishes her goal of bringing attention to the daily struggles and rewards of being a teenage mother.

Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High presents the difficulties of being a teenage mother and the responsibilities associated with that role. People often criticize teenage mothers as being irresponsible and focus only on their shortcomings. The events and concepts throughout the novel apply to all readers’ lives by preaching the harmfulness of creating baseless assumptions about people.

It is common to look down upon teenage mothers, but instead, they should be praised for their hard work and dedication as parents. Acevedo induces readers to consider the hardships and sacrifices associated with being a teenage mother so that people will learn to stop making assumptions about others.

Considering the above, I would recommend With the Fire on High to a reader willing to become more mindful of others’ situations. Readers who enjoy cooking should also read this book because it explores cooking techniques and recipes.