A Step from Heaven – An Na
In this first novel, a young girl describes her family's bittersweet experience in the United States after their emigration from Korea. While going up and up into the sky on the flight from Korea to California, 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.
Review: A Korean family immigrates to the United States for a better life, but they bring so many personal problems with them that achieving a better life is nearly impossible.
I’m amazed by how much time is covered in this short book. The story starts when the narrator, Young Ju, is four years old. It ends when she’s an adult. This might make it sound like the story is rushed, but it isn’t. It somehow works perfectly. Young Ju is one of the most realistic child narrators I’ve ever read. That realism continues through the entire book. She matures in a very believable way. It’s interesting to see how her narration style changes as she becomes older and more Americanized. Young Ju is easy to love, and her story is so authentic and honest that it doesn’t always feel like fiction.
The writing is so good. It’s sparse, and it’s powerful. It seems like the author put a lot of thought in to every single word. This book took some serious skills to write. I especially like the first few chapters and the very last one. The whole book is well-written, but those chapters are more artsy than the others.
I did have some problems with the Korean words in the story. They’re not defined, so it took me a while to figure out what they meant. Most of them are clear by the end, but I was slightly confused in the beginning.
I was also caught off-guard by this story. The summary makes it sound like it’s about the challenges of immigrating to an unfamiliar country, but most of the story isn’t about immigration. It’s about Young Ju struggling to deal with her disintegrating family. Her father is an abusive alcoholic, and her younger brother is following in his footsteps. Her mother isn’t strong enough to stand up for herself and stop the violence. The story is about surviving abuse. The characters just happen to be Korean immigrants.
A Step from Heaven is a short, brutally realistic book. Despite its difficult subject matter, the honest narrator and unique writing style make it an enjoyable read.