Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

A Step from Heaven

A Step from Heaven

4.4 34
by An Na, Jina Oh (Read by)

See All Formats & Editions

2001 National Book Award Nominee

When she is five, Young Ju Park and her family move from Korea to California. During the flight, they climb so far into the sky she concludes they are on their way to Heaven, that Heaven must be in America. Heaven is also where her grandfather is. When she learns the distinction, she is so disappointed she wants to go home to her


2001 National Book Award Nominee

When she is five, Young Ju Park and her family move from Korea to California. During the flight, they climb so far into the sky she concludes they are on their way to Heaven, that Heaven must be in America. Heaven is also where her grandfather is. When she learns the distinction, she is so disappointed she wants to go home to her grandmother. Trying to console his niece, Uncle Tim suggests that maybe America can be "a step from Heaven." Life in America, however, presents problems for Young Ju's family. Her father becomes depressed, angry, and violent. Jobs are scarce and money is even scarcer. When her brother is born, Young Ju experiences firsthand her father's sexism as he confers favored status upon the boy who will continue to carry the Park name. In a wrenching climactic scene, her father beats her mother so severely that Young Ju calls the police. Soon afterward, her father goes away and the family begins to heal.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
In a stunning novel debut honored with the Michael J. Printz Award for excellence in literature for young adults, writer An Na tells the story of a Korean family that immigrates to California in search of a better life, only to find that the American Dream is harder to achieve than they thought. Told through the eyes of Young Ju, who is a preschooler when the book begins and a young woman heading off to college by the time it ends, A Step from Heaven is a moving and sometimes painful tale about cultural differences, family dynamics, and the struggle to survive.

As little Young Ju's plane leaves Korea and climbs high into the sky, she thinks she is headed for heaven. In a way, so do her parents, who believe that America will offer them big opportunities and a more heavenly lifestyle. But life is much harder than they anticipate, and both of Young Ju's parents must work multiple jobs just to make ends meet while they share a house with relatives. Disillusioned and ashamed, Young Ju's father tries to drown the harsh realities of his life in liquor, eventually descending into a pit of alcoholism that turns him emotionally and physically abusive.

Though the family as a unit doesn't adapt well, Young Ju adjusts quickly and soon excels in school. But the shame of her family's poverty and her father's worsening alcoholism leads to several lies and cover-ups that prevent her from ever fully embracing her new life. Caught between two cultures and increasingly isolated by the growing tension within her family, Young Ju eventually finds herself at a crossroads, forced to make a decision that will likely tear her family apart.

A Step from Heaven is an insightful, enriching read that should appeal to teens and young adults on many levels. An Na tells the story through a series of vignettes, using poetic prose and well-drawn characters. And Young Ju's wonderfully engaging voice is a perfect match for the family's evolving reality, ranging from the starry-eyed wonder she has as a toddler to the quiet but hopeful reflectiveness she expresses as a young adult. (Beth Amos)

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
Oh's appropriately girlish voice and measured reading bring to life Young Ju, quiet heroine of debut novelist Na's dark tale of a family of Korean immigrants, which just won the ALA's Printz Award for teenage literature. At age four, Young Ju is not happy to be leaving her Korean home and loving Halmoni (grandmother) to move with her parents to Mi Gook (America), believed to be the land of great promise. Through Young Ju's experiences, listeners hear the family unravel as difficulties mount for them in the States. Young Ju's parents struggle with several low-paying jobs, handicapped by their language barrier. Young Ju's alcoholic and bitter father abuses his wife and children and forbids Young Ju to socialize with American friends. And when her father crosses a frightening line in his cruelty, Young Ju bravely takes action that sets her mother, younger brother and herself on the path to yet another new life in America. Oh's characterization, which realistically captures this powerful contemporary story and gives authentic crispness to Korean words and phrases, will keep listeners in its grip. Ages 12-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A Step from Heaven is an unusual book because it is about a Korean girl adapting to America from age two to eighteen. I liked that the author showed how people hear languages differently when they really do not speak them well. I also liked the realistic way that the girl lived her life, showing how her life was not always perfect. What was really sad was how her father treated her, not understanding that she suffered from being in a strange land. This book should be read by teens fourteen and up because it is somewhat painful. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Front Street, 156p, . Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Miriam Min Joo Lim Levy, Teen Reviewer SOURCE: VOYA, June 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 2)
This is An Na's first novel, certainly exhibiting an "exquisite voice" as stated in The New York Times Book Review. Based partly on her own experiences as an Asian immigrant, her work is a welcome addition to Asian American literature. Written in a series of titled vignettes, this is the tragic but ultimately triumphant story of a Korean immigrant family through the eyes of Young Ju. In a manner appropriate for all YAs, it deals with relationships, self-esteem, lying, conflict of cultures, poverty, gender differences and abuse as a result of alcoholism. The story of how the Park family adjusts to their new environment and lifestyle begins with four-year-old Young Ju hearing about the move to America and confusing it with going to heaven, and concludes with her thoughts about going off to college. Young Ju must cope with learning a new language, being forbidden to have a best friend because of the cultural influence implied in the relationship, coping with a younger brother who is treated differently than she is, and the physical abuse of herself and her brother as well as her mother at the hands of her father. This is written in the first person present tense with no burdensome narrative, which makes it appealing for younger readers with short attention spans. The manner and sensitivity of the storytelling itself will appeal to all readers. It would work well as supplemental reading for many of the social studies in areas of culture, immigration, abuse, and poverty. We will eagerly await more from this author. (Note: Winner, 2002 Michael L. Printz Award, and an ALA Best Book for YAs.) KLIATT Codes: JSA*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students, advancedstudents, and adults. 2001, Penguin Putnam, Speak, 160p.,
— Ann Hart
Children's Literature
When four-year-old Young Ju learns she is going to move to America, she thinks her family is on its way to heaven and that she will see her deceased grandfather, Harabugi, when they arrive. Bitterly disappointed when she learns this is not true, her American uncle tries to console her by telling her that perhaps it is "a step from heaven." Young Ju believes that "In Mi Gook (America), everyone will be happy and filled with love." Unfortunately, her family brings its own problems with them, and as her father fails to find a job that will lift them from their poverty, his drinking and abuse worsen. Young Ju finds refuge in her school. She spends as much time as she can with Amanda, her American friend—a friend her father views with suspicion since she is outside the Korean culture—and keeps her family's poverty a secret. The many trials of an immigrant family adjusting to life in this country appear in stark clarity through Young Ju's eyes. The struggle to assimilate and to deal with her father's abuse will leave a deep impression on middle school or high school readers.
—Cherri Jones

Product Details

Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Unabridged, 3 cassettes, 3 hrs. 30 min.
Product dimensions:
4.50(w) x 7.28(h) x 1.28(d)
Age Range:
8 - 11 Years

Read an Excerpt

A Step from Heaven

  • Just to the edge, Young Ju. Only your feet. Stay there.

    Cold. Cold water. Oh. My toes are fish. Come here. Fast. Look.

    What is it, Young Ju?

    See my toes. See how they are swimming in the sea? Like fish.

    Yes, they are little fat piggy fish.

    Ahhh! Tickles.

    Come on. Up. Keep your legs around me. Are you ready to go swim in the waves?

    Hold me. Hold me.

    I have you. Look over there, Young Ju. See how the waves dance. See? Hold on tight. We are going over there.

    No. Stop. Deep water. Go back.

    Shhh, Young Ju. Do not be afraid. You must learn how to be brave. See, I have you.

    No. No. Go back.

    Young Ju, can you be brave? Look, that is only a small wave. Do not worry. I will hold you tight the whole time. Can you try to be a brave girl for me?

    I will try.

    Good girl. Ready for the wave? Here it comes. Get ready. Up. And down. There, do you still want to go back?

    Again. Do it again. Another one.

    That is my courageous girl. Hold on to my neck, Young Ju. Here we go. Up. And down.

    I am a sea bubble floating, floating in a dream. Bhop.

  • Meet the Author

    An Na was born in Korea and grew up in San Diego, California. She graduated from Amherst College and received her MFA from Norwich University. A former middle school teacher, she now divides her time writing in Oakland, California, and Warren, Vermont. A Step from Heaven is her first novel.

    Customer Reviews

    Average Review:

    Post to your social network


    Most Helpful Customer Reviews

    See all customer reviews

    Step from Heaven 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    A Step from Heaven, written by An Na is a novel that provides the reader with vivid imagery through the eyes of little Korean girl named Young Ju. Young Ju and her family leave Korea in hopes of a better life in America. The author chronicles the reader through Young Ju¿s life allowing the reader to experience Young Ju growing from a four year old, to young girl, to a teenager, to a young lady. Through this journey, An Na does an exquisite job of adapting the voice of the Young Ju to fit the appropriate age. This book is beautifully written and is filled with important symbolism. It would be a perfect book to incorporate into an English class for a middle school or high school curriculum to teach the skill of recognizing symbolism or imagery. It also could be part of a social studies curriculum dealing customs of different countries or immigration. Young Ju is a strong young lady who is brave. She faces fear and hardship with a determined grace. She embarrassedly has a father who progressively becomes more alcoholic, abusive, and depressed as the novel progresses. Young readers who themselves might have a parent who struggles with alcoholism and all the demons that are associated with the disease, will relate to Young Ju and her family attempting to keep their dysfunctional family life a secret. The author also does a good job of showing that all characters are not ¿all good¿ or ¿all bad.¿ Young Ju¿s father, though abusive, is shown with having a caring side as well. Even though this book deals with the tough subject of abuse, it is also very light hearted funny at times. The reader will see how a Korean girl adapts to America as she struggles to learn the language and American customs. This a great book for teachers to add into their curriculum. It is recommended that the teachers read the book aloud to the students allowing them more easily to pick up on who is who in the book. The teacher reading the book aloud will also make it more easy to direct the students to the symbolism throughout the book.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    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; 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' 'uhmma' 'apa' 'halmoni' 'uhn-nee' 'gomo' (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.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I remember reading this book a few years ago and loving it. And I just got done re-reading it. Loving it more than the first time.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Oops I mean Haraboji and Uh-nee
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I had just finish reading this book and it was amazing. I wish that Uhmma wouldn't forgive Apa everytime he beats her. She has a choice to leave him. Young Ju is my favorite character. She is very intelligent and she shows love and care to her brother and mother. This book isn't really for kids but it's for young adults. I hhighly suggest that people should read this book.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    A deep, quiet book that gives insight into human nature and cultural awareness.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Bad words in the story getting screamed to a kid
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    strongbaby More than 1 year ago
    Less than 100 pages long, the book contains powerful emotions much larger than its size. The writer had clearly felt the emotions that I had felt years ago. Although my life was nowhere near as volatile as the protagonist's, I could share her feelings, from confusion to fear, and sympathize with her as she encounters abuse from her father. An Na's writing style made it possible for me to forge a connection with the character, and for that reason, the book is special.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This is one of those books that i would read over and over it's that good. Yes it could have a few bad words but it has a good plot and has an amazing interview at the end with the author.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    When Young Ju is four years old her family moves to California from Korea. On the flight to Mi Gook 'America', Young Ju concludes that America is heaven. However, she finds out that America is another earthly place and is disappointed. When Joon Ho, Young Ju¡¯s little brother is born Young Ju experiences her father¡¯s favoritism towards his son. Her family struggles to adjust to life in America and is weighed down by the difficulty of learning English. When Young Ju¡¯s drunken dad becomes depressed and angry her family starts to fall apart. Young Ju Park is the main character in the book A Step from Heaven. She is very intelligent. In the book she does very well in school. Young Ju shows jealousy toward her younger brother, Joon Ho, who is favored by her dad. Like all little boys, Joon Ho is mischievous. He is also stubborn in getting what he wants. Apa, Young Ju¡¯s dad, is very self-centered and inconsiderate. In the book, he gets drunk most of the time and gets violent and abusive. His lack of care and love for his family brings pain in the family. Also favoring his son, Joon Ho, because of the fact that he is a boy who will continue to carry the Park name, inconsiderately hurts Young Ju. Uhmma, Young Ju¡¯s mom, is caring and understanding. She loves and cares for her family. She shows understanding towards her drunken husband instead of getting mad or angry. Even when she is beaten or abused, she forgives Apa. ¡°Apa says that in Mi Gook everyone can make lots of money even if they did not go to an important school in the city. Uhmma says all the uhmmas in Mi Gook are pretty like dolls. And they live in big houses. Much bigger than the rich fish factory man¡¯s houses in the village. Even Ju Mi, my friend who is one year older and likes to boss me around, says she would like to go to Mi Gook.¡± I think this is an important passage of the book in understanding the novel. It explains the American Dream that immigrants from all over the world hope and fantasize to achieve. And it explains Young Ju¡¯s family¡¯s dream of coming to America. One of many reasons that people want to come to America is because ¡°everyone can make lots of money even if they did not go to an important school in the city.¡± Apa believed that he¡¯ll make a lot of money in America, which is partly true. Apa and Uhmma dreamed to live in a big house like most Americans do. They also wanted a better education for Young Ju. Many immigrants come to America to receive a better education and achieve their dreams in this country. A Step from Heaven by An Na is a book that anyone could relate to. The book relates to my life a lot since I am a Korean American immigrant living in the U.S. From reading this book I learned more about the immigrants living in America, their struggles and their family life. I strongly recommend this book to anyone living in America, either an immigrant or a citizen of U.S. I think it is important to know and learn about the people who make up this country, which in this case, immigrant from all over the world. I think it is important to know what immigrants go through in this country and how they struggle to achieve the American Dream.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    All in all this book was pretty good. Took me about a week to lazily read through it, so not very long either. I particularly liked the descriptions from the perspective of 4 year-old Young Ju, they were very thought provoking to me. However, I thought it was very sad to see how the move affected her Apa and how he affected them. I recommend this book to anybody who wants a basic description of a young Korean girls experience moving to the U.S.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    A Step From Heaven Front Street.,2001,???.,$15.50 An Na ISBN-1 -886910-58-8 Change is formidable! People settle into one way and it is difficult to adjust, whether it¿s customs, language or what you eat everyday. A Step From Heaven is about a four year-old girl who moves to America from Korea. Young Ju has a hard life in Korea and it always seems like her father is in a oppressive mood. When she hears she is moving to a place called Mi Gook she believes that she is moving to Heaven and will join her dead grandmother, when, in reality, Mi Gook is America. ¿I am a mountain rabbit bouncing, running. Where am I going? I am going to see Harabugi. And when Halmoni comes, I will ask her if she liked the bus called an airplane. In Mi Gook, everyone will be happy and filled with love. I am a mountain rabbit bouncing, running closing my eyes. Waiting for heaven.¿ Young Ju arrives in America after a long journey on a plane with her mother and father. They move into a cramped place that they rent from a Korean man they call ¿Uncle Tim¿. After she lives in America for a while, she talks to Uncle Tim about living in heaven and he tells her that this is America, which he tells her to consider ¿a step from Heaven¿. Young Ju has to struggle with adapting to American culture while trying not to forget her parents¿ Korean customs. Unfortunately, America still does not improve her father¿s temper and he is often drunk. Her father, or Apa, gets only low-paying manual labor jobs. Young Ju¿s family is poor and lives in a very plain condominium with limited space. This embarrasses her because her wealthier friend, Amanda, whom she meets once she starts school, has very involved, loving parents and lives in a pleasant upscale house. Whenever Amanda offers to drop her off at her house, Young Ju tells her she lives in one of the big, wealthy homes at the top of the hill and then, after Amanda drives away, Young Ju walks down the hill to her own house. She pretends her parents are chefs who work all the time so her friend can¿t ever come over. Young Ju builds up so many lies that she finds herself trapped in them. As the book goes on, and Young Ju gets older, her family problems only grow until Young Ju¿s father is so unhappy and abusive to her and her mother that something must change. Young Ju¿s American perspective helps her realize her family might have choices which they did not have in Korea. A Step From Heaven is a powerful book about immigration. The voice of Young Ju begins as a young child and grows up with the story, which I think makes the book increasingly exciting as Young Ju gets more intelligent and able to contemplate what is going on around her.Young Ju¿s far-from-normal childhood shows intense and even violent differences between Korean and American culture. Young Ju¿s father feels it is acceptable to treat his wife and child in a way that is actually against the law in America. A less drastic example of this is when Young Ju is invited to her best friend Amanda¿s birthday party where there will be girls and boys. Her parents will not let her attend. Young Ju¿s parents accuse American girls of not studying and caring only about boys. This aggravates Young Ju because she knows Amanda does study and is an intelligent person. I think this incident is a dramatic illustration of how Young Ju¿s parents don¿t let her do many things that a normal child growing up in America would be allowed to do. This is the first book about a young girl moving to America that I have ever read. This book took me through a variety of emotions. At times I felt really sad for Young Ju because her family was so hard to deal with. I also felt angry at her father for treating her the way he did. I understood how uncomfortable it was for Young Ju to be in a country and not kno
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    It was a pretty good book about an asian girl who moved from Korea and has an abusive fater. I learned something important from this book. One of my favorites.