Na, An. A Step from Heaven. New York: The Penguin Group, 2001. ISBN: 9780142500279
2002 Michael Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature
“I am a sea bubble floating, floating in a dream. Bhop”. Young Ju at age four hears about Mi Gook (America) and thinks it must be Heaven. A year later Young and her family move to America where she hears from her uncle that America is close, but not Heaven, it is a step from Heaven. Young quickly learns this to be true as her family encounters many acculturation and life difficulties. There is adjustment to school in a new country with a new language, her parents have to work many hours and they still have difficulties making ends meet, Young’s baby brother is born and her father automatically favors him because he is a boy, and her father’s alcoholism grows worse and violent. Even through the adversity, Young Ju flourishes as she gains understanding of herself and her mother. The novel ends with Young Ju getting ready to go to college. She is still a dreamer, “I am a sea bubble floating, floating in a dream. Bhop.”
This is a thoughtful engaging story. In author An Na’s first novel, she presents Young Ju’s story in vignettes where the “voice” grows with Young as she moves from four years old to a young woman. Na does an excellent job of fully developing the characters by their actions, thoughts and interactions. A Step from Heaven is book that I read from cover to cover in one sitting because I was drawn in to Young Ju’s life, and I wanted to know how she resolved her identity and family conflict.
The mix of Korean thought and words and the book being in first person present tense was confusing to me at first, but it did not last long because the writing is so emotive and nicely done. Since it was written by a Korean author, I believe the culture described to be authentic. Many times I wondered if the story was autobiographical, but in bonus material included, the author said that it was not.
Immigrants will relate to Young Ju being caught between being Korean and being American, and all teens will relate to at least one of the family struggles or friendship and identity issues portrayed.
BOOKLIST: “…the coming-of-age drama will grab teens and make them think of their own conflicts between home and outside. As in the best writing, the particulars make the story universal.”
PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY: “The journey Na chronicles, in Young’s graceful and resonant voice is an acculturation process that is at times wrenching, at times triumphant and consistently absorbing.”
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “Na has effectively evoked the horror and small joys of the girl’s home life while creating sympathetic portraits of all of the members of the family. A beautifully written, affecting work.”
*Have students imagine themselves going to another country to live and write about difficulties fitting in or understanding the culture of their new country.
*Read while studying immigration.
*Topics of discussion: moving, acculturation, friendship, family violence/alcoholism
*Author’s website: http://www.anwriting.com/index.html