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A Step from Heaven

Review

A Step from Heaven

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.

You think you had it bad growing up? Young doesn't speak or even understand English. She must struggle to become the "Mi Gook girl" her mother wants for a daughter, which means losing some of her Korean identity. But it seems that just as soon as she learns the American culture, her parents are afraid she has forgotten her past. Young doesn't want her new American friends to see how "weird" her parents are or the poverty in which they live, so she doesn't invite them over, she lies to both her friends and her family --- and instead of fixing the situation, Young only serves to make herself more lonely. Worst of all, her father's drinking is out of hand. The family thought he would stop when they left Korea, but he hasn't. In fact, he's gotten worse. Now here in America, where Young and her mother don't know a soul and can't communicate well, they feel as if no one can help with his alcoholism. Soon, Young fears for her and her mother's lives.

An Na weaves a wonderfully poetic first novel. Although grand in scope, the novel never feels overdone. The story is sweepingly dramatic without a trace of insincerity --- it feels real. It will open the eyes of anyone who is a part of American society, who has lived here all their lives and never felt like an outsider, and anyone moving here from another country will relate to Young Ju's struggles to learn America's strange ways. An Na is a talented writer who makes sure you know her characters inside and out. Everyone you meet in this book will work his or her way into your heart --- even Young Ju's father --- and you won't forget any of the characters anytime soon. Best of all is Young Ju, a confused girl who is also brave, kind and gentle. You won't escape the pain that Young must deal with every day, as her family struggles to break free from their no-win situation. However, Young sees the beauty everywhere, even in her harsh reality.

Look around. Is there someone you know who is a little different, someone who doesn't get noticed much? You would never guess it, but maybe they could use your friendship right now. A lyrical and beautiful book, this novel is a great read. It flows quickly, is well-written, and you can definitely learn from it. I know I did.

Reviewed by Kate Torpie on April 30, 2001

A Step from Heaven
by An Na

  • Publication Date: April 30, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 156 pages
  • Publisher: Front Street imprint of Boyds Mills Press
  • ISBN-10: 1886910588
  • ISBN-13: 9781886910584