Author: An Na
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
First Published: 2001
Genres: Coming of Age, Contemporary, Young Adult
When Young Ju is four years old, she learns that her family is leaving their small fishing village in Korea to live in Mi Gook. Young Ju has heard enough about Mi Gook to be sure the place they are moving to is paradise, that she and her family are going to heaven.
After flying through the sky for a long time, Young Ju finds out that Mi Gook is actually a regular earthly place called America. And it doesn't feel at all like heaven. A STEP FROM HEAVEN follows Young's life from the age of 4 all the way up until she is ready for college, as we watch her change from a hopeful girl into a hardened young adult.Also by this author: The Place Between Breaths
A Step from Heaven is not an easy book to address. It follows the life of Young Ju Park and her family; they are Korean immigrants pursuing the American dream. The book takes place over a wide span of time from the age of four to graduating high school. The story focuses not on the everyday events of the narrator, but instead on the major events that impacted her and her family as they struggle to acclimate to American culture. It is a classic immigrant story that is deeply heartfelt and inspirational, but it’s also a story about motherhood, and the sacrifices that parents make for their children for the chance to give them a good life.
“Your life can be different, Young Ju. Study and be strong. In America, women have choices.”
I didn’t expect this book to trigger something in me, but I found myself feeling pretty melancholy during certain parts of the book. I didn’t realize it before I picked up this book, but the later chapters hit really close to home that was startlingly accurate. Domestic abuse is an undercurrent within this story that builds steadily over time before reaching a boiling point and it made my heart ache. This is a young adult novel, so the story can be a little bit simplistic, but I appreciated how the writing becomes more refined as the main character grows older, steadily learns English, raises to the top of her class, yet the sentence structure still has hints that remind me that English is the narrator’s second language, which kept the narration feeling authentic.
An easy one to recommend for those looking for a good family story, but suffers a little bit from the tired immigration story that is so prevalent in American literature. For young adults, however, this book can be a good introduction to people whose experiences growing up in America can differ vastly from their own, and the role that culture plays in each person’s development.
Warnings: Domestic abuse, alcohol abuse, animal death