Amy Simonson's Reviews > A Step from Heaven

A Step from Heaven by An Na
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Feb 05, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: literature-for-adolescents
Read in February, 2012

** spoiler alert ** An Na’s book A Step from Heaven is the best piece of adolescent literature I have read in a while. The first part is a little difficult to read, but that only enhances the ending as the reader sees Young Ju’s growth in the decade and a half that she narrates her story. The cultural immersion is powerful, and I was struck by the differences in Korean and American culture, and even how they were integrated together.
The author addresses Young Ju’s future aspirations, friends, and, of course, family. Her Apa enraged me, but made the book powerful. If he had been different - kind, supportive - the book would have been entirely different and just another piece of fiction. As it was, he was controlling and kept the reader guessing, in addition to the severe abuse he administered to his wife and children. It broke my heart a little near the end when Young Ju was going through pictures with Mrs. Park and they talked about the waves and the picture of their happy family. Obviously, the immigration from Korea to America affected Mr. Park deeply alongside the loss of his mother, Halmoni. These experiences change Apa from the man who taught his daughter to jump in the waves to the man who knocks his daughter to the ground for integrating herself into American society by simply having a friend of a different race. It made me question why he moved to Mi Gook in the first place, but that’s all part of the story.
The character development of Young Ju is unequalled in any book I have read lately, and any book of that size I have perhaps ever read. As the ending notes from An Na say, she was able to make Young Ju’s voice not seem childish in the beginning as a many authors do to young children narrators. I was unsure as to how this progression would work, but it was seamless as Young Ju started to use longer, more complicated sentences and dialog. By the end of the novel, this book becomes engrossing and sweeping as its readers lose track of time in the story and learn from its characters.
Mrs. Park and Joon were two fascinating characters to study, but as there are only about ten named characters, all of them are able to have a considerable impact on the story. Even Uncle Tim and Gomo change from supporting to shocked at Mr. Park when he starts to deteriorate. The relationship between Young Ju and Joon is intriguing. When he is first born, Young Ju fantasizes about him being dead, and by the end she is his caretaker and friend. In the “middle,” they are common caretakers of Harry, sharing in trials and grief. Joon’s Americanization is apparently met without too much conflict, though he still models a lot of his life after his sub-par father.
Again in this study of adolescent literature, I was struck by the large role culture plays in the life of adolescents. What is more, the content of these stories is so different from that of what youth would have been reading a few years prior. This book is for someone in their teens, someone who, at the age of say ten, may have been reading Captain Underpants. The previous literature these people are exposed to is jovial and somewhat pointless, not really teaching life lessons. Now, as their own lives are moving into a complicated realm, the stories written for adolescents address things like divorce, substance abuse, physical and emotion abuse, and the anguish involved in the life of those such as Young Ju. I applaud An Na for her contribution to adolescent literature. Simply put, it is just a story about a girl and her family’s immigration to America. But, in essence, it is a deep, stretching story about Park Young Ju, the way situations change people, and growth on so many levels.
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