A Step from Heaven

by An Na

As a small girl living in Korea, Young Ju Park leads a relatively carefree life,... read more

As a small girl living in Korea, Young Ju Park leads a relatively carefree life, although she is often aware of the unhappiness of her father, mother, and paternal grandmother. Young’s four-year-old mind reasons that they are all unhappy because her grandfather has gone to live in heaven. When she and her parents board an airplane, she assumes that they are going to join him. Instead, she finds herself in the unfamiliar United States with no grandfather. Worse, Young’s grandmother has stayed in Korea. They have come to America for a better life, Young’s parents tell her. But her parents still seem unhappy — understandably, since they’re living with relatives and working menial jobs. In the years that follow, even the birth of a cherished son and the purchase of a home don’t make things better. Young’s father sinks deeper into alcoholism and depression. For Young, attending school where everyone speaks English and expects her to act like an American girl is challenging enough. But at home she’s expected to uphold Korean cultural values, something that gets harder to do as she grows older. An Na’s stunning first novel depicts Young’s development by showing the complexities of her world, screened through her mind. We see Young, even as a small child, trying to piece events together on an intellectual as well as an emotional level. Her struggle to comprehend her family life leads to a mature understanding of her mother, allowing Young to take some courageous steps into the adult world. (Age 13 and older)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2002

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