Synopses & Reviews
When four-year-old Young Ju Park first hears the words Mi Gook Korean for "America" she is sure that they mean "Heaven." But when her family moves to Southern California the following year, she finds the transition from life in Korea far from easy. The countless unexpected challenges from learning English, to finding work, to attending school put more and more pressure on the Park family until its fragile construction begins to splinter. Yet as Young Ju grows from child to adolescent in her new home she finds a surprising new voice neither Korean nor American, but uniquely her own. That voice allows her to make sense of her world, and gives her the strength to succeed. A Step from Heaven is the stunning debut of an equally unique writer.
In her mesmerizing first novel, Na traces the life of Korean-born Young Ju from the age of four through her teenage years, wrapping up her story just a few weeks before she leaves for college. 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. Told almost like a memoir, the narrative unfolds through jewel-like moments carefully strung together. As the book opens, Young's parents are preparing to move from Korea to "Mi Gook," America, where the residents all "live in big houses." Soaring through the sky on her first airplane ride, the child believes she is on her way to heaven, where she hopes to meet up with her deceased grandfather and eventually be reunited with her beloved grandmother, who has stayed behind. After the family's arrival, Young's American uncle dispels the notion that the United States is heaven, yet adds, "Let us say it is a step from heaven." It doesn't take the girl or her parents very long to realize how steep this step is. From her first sip of Coca-Cola, which "bites the inside of my mouth and throat like swallowing tiny fish bones," Young's new life catches her in a tug-of-war between two distinct cultures. When her brother is born, her father announces "Someday my son will make me proud," then disdainfully dismisses Young's assertion that she might grow up to be president ("You are a girl"). Although she learns English in school, Young must speak only Korean at home and is discouraged from spending time with the classmate who is her sole friend. Her father, a disillusioned, broken man, becomes increasingly physically and emotionally abusive to his children and wife as he descends further into alcoholism. In fluid, lyrical language, Na convincingly conveys the growing maturity of her perceptive narrator who initially (and seamlessly) laces her tale with Korean words, their meaning evident from the context. And by its conclusion, readers can see a strong, admirable young woman with a future full of hope. Equally bright are the prospects of this author; readers will eagerly await her next step. Ages 12-up. Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
The winner of the 2002 Michael L. Printz Award is now available in paperback. When her family moves to California from Korea, Young Ju Park grows from a child to adolescence in her new home, and finds a surprising new voice that's neither Korean nor American but uniquely her own.
About the Author
An Na was born in Korea and grew up in San Diego, California. A former middle school English and history teacher, she is currently at work on her third novel. She lives in Vermont.