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A Step from Heaven by An Na
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really liked it

A Korean family emigrates to the United States in search of a better life. Told from the viewpoint of the daughter, the story follows her from age four to age sixteen. She and her family encounter language difficulties, feelings of isolation, a struggle for identity, and an abusive relationship with her father. Young Ju, the daughter, goes to school with no understanding of English, and develops into one of the top members of her class. Apa, the father, begins to resent her acquisition of English and her successful assimilation into American culture. He resents those who understand English, mistrusts the intensions of Americans, and becomes abusive with his family. Uhmma, the mother, adapts much more readily, is able to stay focused on the dream of becoming American and allowing her children to live a better life. She and the children join a church, in order to become more accepted and further assimilated into the culture. Apa; however, holds the family back, punishing them for their successes. Eventually, the struggle to fit in becomes too much for Apa, and he moves back to Korea. The rest of the family remains in America and is finally allowed to develop as Americans.

The book exhibits especially unique literary quality. It challenges the reader through Young Ju’s translation of English, particularly in the early chapters. The intermixing of Korean and the youth of the narrator also provide credibility to the story. Young Ju’s life experience, or lack thereof, pose additional challenges to both the reader’s and Young Ju’s understanding of various situations. In spite of the challenges, the story is engaging and clever. The division of chapters into small vignettes about the family’s experience helps the book flow without seeming too disjointed.

I really enjoyed this book. There were sections that were difficult to get through, such as the various abusive scenes with the father, but by that point in the story, I was so interested and vested in the story that I couldn’t stop. This book would appeal to YAs because of the format of short chapters, which makes is more accessible. Also, the fact that Young Ju doesn’t feel as though she is part of her own family is something that some YAs might identify with fairly closely. The most interesting aspect of the book is the way the reader can see Young Ju’s literary and verbal growth and grasp of English as the story progresses. I would absolutely recommend this book to YA and adults.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
March 4, 2009 – Shelved

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