Post number seventeen is for An Na’s A Step from Heaven, which was a required reading assignment for my YA Lit course. This book was actually a Printz Award winner as well as a National Book Finalist, so it’s gotten some rave reviews. And for good reason; I really enjoyed this book.
A Step from Heaven’s main protagonist is Young Ju, a Korean immigrant who comes to the US with her mother and father when she’s four. Like all immigrants, the Park family has left Korea to “have a better life”. And, like most immigrants, there are lots of bumps and bruises along the way. Young Ju’s father is an alcoholic who occasionally beats her mother. Things are okay at first in the US, because her mother becomes pregnant and has a son, and her father immediately is in love with his “first son”. Young Ju, even at a young age, notices the difference in the way her father treats her from the way he treats her brother. Her parents also struggle with learning English, whereas Young Ju (and her brother, once he starts school) pick it up fairly easily. There’s a scene when Young Ju is thirteen and needs to have her green card renewed, and her father and her travel to the office to get the necessary paperwork. Young Ju has to first tell her father where to go (he can’t read the signs), then has to fix a mix-up with the paperwork (her father said she needed a green card, instead of saying she needed to renew her green card, which required visits to different windows). When she’s trying to explain to her father what the final person is saying, he keeps snapping at her and telling her to be quiet, and that he’s having the conversation/he’s the one talking, etc., but she still has to intervene to get her father to calm down. (It goes without saying that she most likely filled out the form herself.) Her parents start out working multiple jobs, but as her father’s drinking begins to take over he loses more and more of those positions, finally culminating in a drunk driving charge. Young Ju, meanwhile, is becoming more and more “American” and her father is angry because she’s no longer Korean enough. Her brother begins to skip school and is only home to eat and sleep, and both spend a lot of time avoiding their father, who is increasingly volatile. This violence culminates in her father nearly beating her mother to death, and Young Ju finally getting up the nerve to call the police and get help.
There were little things throughout this book that really pulled at your heartstrings, to the point where I was teary-eyed – and then flat out cried at the end. The book opens with a very young Young Ju riding the waves with an unknown adult, and THIS IS PRETTY SPOILERY, IF YOU’RE GOING TO READ THE BOOK YOU PROBABLY SHOULDN’T READ THIS BECAUSE IT WILL RUIN WHAT THE AUTHOR WAS GOING FOR – HIGHLIGHT TO READ!
at the end, when she’s going through old photos with her mother, she learns that the person who took her out into the water and taught her to be brave and courageous was actually her father, who never treated her well at all throughout most of the book. It was this part where I literally bawled.
OKAY, SPOILERS OVER NOW. :D
Anyway, this was a really good book, and I’m glad I read it. I don’t know if I’m going to get the other two read for this week, and this one was hard to find as my local library that I normally borrow from only had one in their whole system, and it was checked out, but I found it at the public library near my work and was able to get a card/check it out there, and MAN was it worthwhile. I highly recommend this book.