A Step From Heaven

A Step From Heaven

An Na

A Korean American girl tells of her acculturation into American life.

I am looking for Harabugi all over Gomo’s house. there are so many rooms. All of the floors are covered with a warm white blanket that is soft on my feet. And the rooms do not have rice paper doors bu ta big piece of wood like the stores in the village. Everyone in heaven must be very rich to have so many blankets and wooden doors inside the house.

In this first novel, a young girl describes her family’s bittersweet experience i the United States after their emigration from Korea. While going up and up into the sky on the flight form 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 Yong Ju grows from a child to an adult.

  • Ages: 14 - 17
  • Grades: 9 - 12
  • Pages: 160

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Recent Reviews

7 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. … 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.

—Publishers Weekly

7 As in the best writing, the particulars make the story, a first novel, universal.


7 A beautifully written, affecting work.

—School Library Journal

7 An Na displays an astonishing and memorable force.

—Horn Book

An Na’s first novel, A Step From Heaven, is the engaging tale of a young girl’s childhood in the shadow of an abusive father, and of how she gains the courage to choose freedom for herself and her family. … The book is endowed with a haunting grace by the exquisite voice of a new young writer.

—New York Times Book Review

Na’s crisp writing sketches Young Ju’s growth from a 4-year-old to a high school senior on her way to college who watches her parents’ marriage fall apart. Her father’s drinking, depression and domestic violence are realistic and disturbing. But Na’s ability to create a believable family history transcends the painful scenes, just as Young Ju overcomes her bittersweet childhood to become an admirable young woman.

—USA Today

Spare imagistic language and present-tense first-person narration reflect the often-sketchy memories that slowly reveal painful family relationships. The cadence of the sentences, short at first and then longer as the narrator learns English and grows to womanhood, etches the acculturation process and delivers a powerful punch.

—Book Links

An Na’s stunning first novel depicts Young’s development by showing the complexities of her world, screened through her mind. We see Young, even as a small child, trying to piece events together on an intellectual as well as an emotional level. Her struggle to comprehend her family life leads to a mature understanding of her mother, allowing Young to take some courageous steps into the adult world.

—CCBC Choices (University of Wisconsin)

Honors for A Step From Heaven

  • Michael L. Printz Award
  • National Book Award Finalist
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults
  • California Collections Selection
  • Asian American Booklist, Grades 9 and UP —Read Across America, National Education Association
  • Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature —Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association
  • Reading List —Women's Division Reading Program
  • Gateway Readers Award Nominee —Missouri Association of School Libraries
  • William Allen White Children's Book Award master list
  • Children's Book Award (Young Adult Fiction) —IRA
  • IRA Notable Books for a Global Society
  • ALA Notable Children's Book
  • Fanfare Book —The Horn Book Honor List
  • CCBC Choices
  • Books for the Teen Age —NYPL
  • Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Award
  • Children's Literature Choice List
  • Amelia Bloomer Project List
  • White Ravens—International Youth Library of Munich
  • New York Times Book Review Notable Book
  • Best Children's Books—Publishers Weekly
  • Book Links Lasting Connections
  • Kiriyama Prize Notable Book Shortlist
  • Children's Books of Distinction Award—Riverbank Review
  • Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children