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A Step From Heaven Paperback – October 13, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 97 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Grade 8 Up-An Na's 2002 Printz winning novel (Front St., 2001) is brought to full effect in this reading by Jina Oh. Young Ju emigrates from Korea with her parents when she is four. A few months later, they live in a shabby apartment in Southern California, their family expanded to include a newborn baby boy. The parents work long hours at multiple jobs, and Young Ju struggles first to understand what is going on in school and then to be permitted to participate in typically American schoolgirl activities. The pressures of immigration, language difficulties, and oppositional cultural expectations lead Young Ju's father to become a bitter and often drunk man, physically abusive of his wife and, eventually, his daughter. The stresses of the disintegrating family work on each of its members, sending Young Ju's mother into a religious foray and her brother into middle school truancy. By the time Young Ju is ready to leave for college, her father has returned to Korea and her mother has been able to establish the family in their own American home. Each of the chapters in this emotionally succinct novel might be read as a short story, although the plot-the acclimation of one young girl to a new culture and to her own family-is steady and at times suspenseful. Young Ju's narrative voice matures as she does: in early childhood, she is unclear about identity and place, later she becomes impatient with the limitations placed on her by both culture and her own understanding of what is needed, and at last she matures to a young woman who can appreciate the fact that individuals must admit to their strengths and weaknesses in order to enjoy life's possibilities. The language is rich, studded with Korean words made intelligible both by context and the reader's easy pronunciation. Tunes are sung gently and well, and there is dramatic differentiation made among the cast of characters, making this audio version an enrichment of an already superb text.
Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 - 16 years
  • Grade Level: 7 - 11
  • Lexile Measure: 670 (What's this?)
  • Series: Now in Speak!
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Speak; Reprint edition (October 13, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142500275
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142500279
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book comes highly recommended. It received the Printz award for young adult literature, and is called a must-read by my writing instructor. On reading it, I can see why. On the surface, the book is about a child-immigrant's experience adapting to life in the United States. It is written more in the style of an adult novel than a YA novel. An Na rightly expects her readers to be able to handle more than a lot of books expect them too.
The voice An Na uses to tell her story is fascinating. It begins with Young Ju as a four-year old who speaks no English. Instead of using normal names for things like "toilet paper", she describes them with amazing childlike and unusual words. When she is in America, English dialogue is written how she hears it, not how it is spelled. Wonderful way to show how confusing a new language is. This book is full of touch and smell, as well as sight. She uses vivid descriptions --For just one example, the touch of her mother's rough hands feel like the lick of a cat's tongue.
The book covers Young Ju's life from Age 4 to college age, and the voice matures with her, from the child who still believes magical things, like planes fly to heaven, to a woman who is becoming independent and American despite her's fathers wish to keep her Korean-thinking and subservient.
This book is truly rich with experience. Nothing is flat. She uses many contrasts. We see her father reading the Korean newspaper avidly and then being stumped completely by a few immigration forms. And it goes on with wonderful details like that.
And as for her father, his portrayal is superb. He is a mean-spirited violent alcoholic. Yet he is their father, and at times there are very good times. At times, he worked for the family very hard. We know how he is struggling with a new culture.
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Format: Hardcover
When I heard author An Na speak at a school librarian's convention in Portland, Oregon, in October, 2002, I knew I had to read this book. What she said struck a chord with me, an immigrant who came to this country when I was 3 years old from Holland in 1953. I am also very close to a young man who was adopted from Korea when he was 2 years old.
While this powerful story is about a Korean girl adapting to her new life in America, many of the struggles she faces are similar to those that I went through, even though I was a white kid from an earlier generation.
I plan to share this emotionally gripping story with my adopted Korean friend, as I believe he will find some things to relate to as well.
Don't be put off by the awkward, slow start. That's part of the story's development. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
This virtually flawless book traces the steps of Yung Ju, a Korean girl who moves to America (or as she clalls it, "Mi Gook" )as a young child. She thinks she is going to heaven because of all the great things she's heard about it. She soon learns that it is not. Her family struggles to find a place to live, and to learn English. Yung Ju tries her best to do good in school. She makes friends with a girl, only to be forbidden from seeing her. It unfolds into haunting grace as Yung Ju grows and matures into a young woman and her father becomes more and more abusive and becoming an ever closer to becoming an alcoholic and her brother becomes a rebel and ditches school. Strangely graceful yet real and painful, A Step From Heaven dances with pain across the stage with exquisite voice.
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Format: Audio Cassette
Okay, so maybe in reading and rating this book I'm a little biased because I am Korean-American girl, but I thought that it was a good book. The ideas that An Na writes about are so true to Korean culture; the pressure to be perfect; the importance of family; respect; the value of men over women; and dealing with two cultures. The phoenetic spelling of Korean words to English was awkward and I doubt if anyone without knowledge of the Korean language would be able to understand any of it i.e. 'harabugi'(meaning grandfather) 'uhmma'(mom) 'apa' (dad) 'halmoni' (grandmother) 'uhn-nee' (this is a term a girl uses to call another girl who is older than her) 'gomo' (your dad's sister, yes, I realize I could have typed 'aunt', but in Korean there are different words for relatives depending on how they are related to you). I even had trouble trying to understand what the spelling was meant to mean in Korean, but I still think that anyone should read it. The book gives a little insight to the life of a Korean girl growing up in an American society.
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Format: Hardcover
The first chapter literally took my breath away. I could almost *feel* the words in their original Korean, and when Young Ju later finds the photograph of that day, I returned to read it again with new tears filling my eyes. The child's voice is exquisite--neither saccharine nor too-cute. The interplay between Young Ju, her younger brother, and their abusive father is both heartrending and "true."
I would give the book 5 stars for the first few chapters and 3 stars for the end chapters. I didn't like the long time span which, in my opinion, weakened the tight narrative control which is so breathtaking in the beginning.
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By A Customer on August 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is a series of carefully crafted moments in the life of a Korean immigrant girl named Young Ju. From the first moment, in which we can assume Young Ju is a baby, to the last, when she is a young woman, we believe her voice and care about her story. The writing is poetic and very real- the images Young Ju uses to describe her world not only make the reader see what she sees, but bring us to feel empathy for her and to want so badly for everything to turn out for her in the end. A poignant and gentle look at a not-so gentle world, this book stayed with me long after I had closed it.
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