This book by Elizabeth Acevedo was recommended to me by a friend of mine, and since I’ve had no time to read lately, I promptly requested the audiobook from my library. It didn’t take long for it to come in, and it’s a pretty short book, so it didn’t take me long to get through it.
It’s about an Afro-Latina teenaged mom named Emoni. Her mother died in childbirth and her father moved back to Puerto Rico and only visits sporadically, so her abuela (her dad’s mom) has been raising her in Philadelphia. Her mom’s family is in North Carolina and she and her aunt email back and forth regularly, mostly about recipes.
Emoni got involved with a guy named Tyrone who got her pregnant when she was just 14. The school tried to force her into a special school for teen moms, which is less rigorous and would have delayed her graduation, but her guidance counselor and abuela stood up for her and she managed to keep all her classes, although she had to work her butt off and go to summer school in order to get all her credits in.
She and Tyrone tried to stay together for the sake of the baby, but he lost no time in cheating on her, so that didn’t last long.
Their daughter, Emma, is now a toddler and starting to talk. She lives with her mom and great-grandma, but her dad gets her every other weekend. He was a terrible boyfriend, but he’s a pretty good dad, so at least he has that going for him.
Emoni loves to cook and is obsessed with cooking shows like Top Chef. The book covers her senior year of high school when she finds out her school will be offering an elective cooking class. She knows she should take a study hall because, come on, she’s a teen mom with a part-time job. Her abuela is helping to take care of Emma, but she’s adamant that Emoni is the mom and she has to do the mom stuff (bathing her, putting her to bed, dealing with temper tantrums, etc.).
But she takes the cooking class anyway, and this is no Home Ec. The teacher is a chef and he is preparing his students to work in the restaurant industry.
The problem is that people who work in restaurants have to be able to follow a recipe. Emoni has never followed a recipe to the letter and doesn’t see why she should start now, so she and her teacher butt heads over that issue.
At first I was a little wary of the message of this book. I’m all for overcoming adversity, but I don’t support telling people they can do ALL THE THINGS! At some point, you have to choose your priorities, and I say this as someone who sometimes has a tendency to take on too much until I burn out and have a meltdown. It’s not pretty.
But the book ends with Emoni taking the practical choice. Instead of going to college (which she can’t afford and didn’t qualify for any scholarships), she’s going straight to working in a restaurant, and Tyrone wants to take Emma more often and help out with the bills. As much as Emoni misses Emma when she’s with Tyrone, it’s probably a good thing to have Tyrone do more of the parenting, both for Emma’s sake and so Emoni can focus on paying the bills.
I also support Emoni’s decision to go straight into the workforce. Not only is it more realistic than trying to be a student and a mom while working to pay the bills, but, as someone who is still working to pay off her student loans more than 10 years after graduation, I can’t say the college route has a lot to recommend itself in this day and age.
In addition to everything else she has going on, Emoni starts dating the new guy in school, whose name I can’t remember. At first, one of the prettier girls tries to make a go for him, but he only has eyes for Emoni. The other girl’s name is Leslie and Emoni refers to her throughout the book as “Pretty Leslie” and I’m no about that. I don’t ever support defining a female character by her looks, and it felt like Emoni was laying on the slut shaming pretty heavily and I’m not in favor of that either.
Leslie does get some dimension and personal growth later in the book, and I’m glad Acevedo recognized that everyone has their challenges, but you would think Emoni would know better than to slut shame another girl after everything she had to put up with from her classmates when they saw she was pregnant.
What did you read/listen to this week? Anything else someone recommended to you?