A Step from Heaven
A young Korean girl goes from being a meek, cowering little girl to a towering superwoman who saves the world from total destruction.
Okay, we're exaggerating—she's not exactly a superwoman and she doesn't save the world, but what Young Ju, the teenaged heroine in An Na's A Step From Heaven (published in 2001), does is still pretty remarkable.
Young Ju stops her abusive father from killing her mother, all while getting straight A's and learning how to be an American teenager. Think Hallmark movie, but with a Korean immigrant twist and some seriously beautiful writing. And oh, definitely have that box of tissues on stand-by. There are some real tearjerker moments in this book.
What else do you need to know to make you a believer? Well let's just say that even though A Step From Heaven is An Na's first novel, it still won the Michale L. Printz Award—the award for young adult literature—and it was shortlisted for the National Book Award, even though it's in the young adult category (i.e. Twilight territory). Not an easy feat for any novelist, never mind a first-timer.
This book is also way more hip to the stuff that's going on today than a lot of other assigned reading you might get from your teacher: stuff like immigration policies, minority politics, and—most importantly, of course—American teenaged angst. You just can't get more relevant than that.
Why Should I Care?
It is a well-known fact that being a teenager isn't easy—you know it, and so do we. Every single day is pretty much a day when you either feel like a duck out of water or are worried about becoming that duck.
Now imagine that you're a Korean immigrant girl: you're not only trying not to be that duck, but you've got an abusive, alcoholic father to boot. Oh, and you're poor. Feel bad for someone in that situation? Then you'll get the point of this book really easily, which is Empathy with a big E.
Young Ju—despite all of this dreck—learns to feel compassion for even the most toxic people in her life, and she does so without becoming a human doormat. In fact, she becomes stronger as a result. (All right, we'll admit: kind of in a Britney Spears way… minus the excellent chair dancing.)