A Step From Heaven

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About the book

A first novel in which a Korean-American girl tells the story of her acculturation into American life beginning from the day she leaves Korea as a young child and ending when she is a young woman. While going up into the sky on the flight from Korea to America, four-year-old Young Ju concludes that they are on their way to heaven-America is heaven! After they arrive, however, Young Ju and her parents and little brother struggle in their new world, weighed down by the difficulty of learning English, their insular family life, and the traditions of the country they left behind. An Na’s striking language authentically reflects the process of acculturation as Young Ju grows from a child to an adult.



"An Na's first novel, A Step From Heaven, is the engaging tale of a young girl's childhood in the shadow of an abusive father, and of how she gains the courage to choose freedom for herself and her family. . . The book is endowed with a haunting grace by the exquisite voice of a new young writer." – New York Times Book Review


"Na's crisp writing sketches Young Ju's growth from a 4-year-old to a high school senior on her way to college who watches her parents' marriage fall apart. Her father's drinking, depression and domestic violence are realistic and disturbing. But Na's ability to create a believable family history transcends the painful scenes, just as Young Ju overcomes her bittersweet childhood to become an admirable young woman." – USA Today


"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. . . 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." – Publishers Weekly (starred & boxed review)


"As in the best writing, the particulars make the story, a first novel, universal." – Hazel Rochman, Booklist


"A beautifully written affecting work." – School Library Journal


"An Na displays an astonishing and memorable force." – The Horn Book Magazine


"Spare imagistic language and present-tense first-person narration reflect the often-sketchy memories that slowly reveal painful family relationships. The cadence of the sentences, short at first and then longer as the narrator learns English and grows to womanhood, etches the acculturation process and delivers a powerful punch. " – Book Links


"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." – 2002 CCBC Choices


"This beautifully written book, a tale of both tragedy and eventual triumph, is likely to bring tears to the eyes of any reader. Its author must be considered an important new voice in Asian American children's literature." – Voice of Youth Advocates


"A contemporary and personal immigrant tale, this will make an affecting counterpoint to well-worn stories of Ellis Island." – The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books


"This is a powerful story of cultural clash. . . Readers will come to care for Young Ju as she finds her way in a strange culture and eventually finds success. Highly Recommended." – The Book Report


"Young Ju's voice-inner monologue, memories and description to the readers-ages as she does, in a style not unlike Flowers for Algenon. . . Young adult readers will be pleased by the novel's gentle, uplifting finish, nodding empathetically to themselves at Young Ju's trials and triumphs." – Today's Librarian


"This is a coming-of-age novel as well as a coming-into-the-country novel. It allows young people to step outside themselves for a moment and walk in the shoes of a hesitant, troubled peer who is not sure she likes being here. Poignant and powerful, the book is written with lyrical inventiveness that startles and delights and makes us see all things about us with new eyes." – Multicultural Review


"This book enriches readers' understanding of Korean culture and of the immigrant experience shared by many." – Children's Literature


"Na makes us cheer for Young Ju against all the odds, and she makes us cry when we see her disappointments and broken dreams, as if we had gone through them ourselves (and perhaps we did). This is a must read." – Korean Quarterly


"An Na's A Step from Heaven is a remarkable and important book. A number of precisely observed incidents in the life of a young immigrant add up to a compelling portrait. Young Ju's struggles are rewarded, but the costs are measured carefully, and her success is haunted by a profound sense of loss." – Brock Cole


"An Na uses short, powerful strokes of language to propel us great distances Рfrom foreign to familiar, from seaside idyll to cramped domestic nightmare, from innocence to unfortunate wisdom. East meets West, childhood meets adulthood, hope meets despair . . which meets hope once more. You finish the book, marvel at its sweep, and ask, ‘Did she really do all that?' Well, she did. And on the evidence she's going to do a lot more." РChris Lynch


"I was deeply moved by An Na's novel. It is real, painful, and beautiful – a remarkable achievement. In telling the quintessential American story of an immigrant family struggling for a foothold, An Na has created a singular world that is both tender and cruel, and she has done it with elegant simplicity and freshness. Young Ju simply gripped my heart and did not let go." – Norma Fox Mazer


"A Step from Heaven is a beautifully written novel – sometimes poignantly funny, always moving. The language is so real and so engaging that Young Ju and her family will get into the hearts of readers and stay there long after the last page has been read." – Jacqueline Woodson