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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.
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.)
An Na's Own Website
This site is basically your one-stop site for anything on An Na. A perk: the design is really easy on the eyes…
All About Korean American History
Just can't get any info on Korean Americans in your history classes? Just for you, here's a website teachers go to that's completely devoted to Korean American history...
Korean American History, Multimedia-Style
A super-cool multimedia site with tons of videos and slideshows.
The National Association for Korean Americans
Because no one does Korean American history better than, well, Korean Americans.
Just in Case...
This book is pretty heavy on domestic abuse, so here's a site that addresses the specific issue of abuse in Korean American families.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
Because absolutely no one deserves to suffer the kind of violence Young Ju and her family experience in this book.
There's no better sign of success than a glowing review from The New York Times Book Review.
Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith
A super in-depth interview with An Na—you'll find out all sorts of personal things about the author.
Interview about The Fold
Interested in more books by An Na? Here's an interview all about her novel The Fold, also about Korean American issues, namely plastic surgery and the fascination with the double-eyelid.
Mitali's Fire Escape Interview
Sure this interview may be mostly about An Na's book The Fold, but it contains some nice nuggets of info, like what An Na's childhood was like and how she writes.
Stats on Korean American Domestic Abuse
Curious about the stats for domestic violence in Korean American families? Here you go, number-crunchers.
Korean American Churches and Domestic Violence
What's the connection you ask? Well, think of this article as a way of addressing the lack of connection between Korean American churches and the reality of domestic violence in Korean American families.
Teen Interviews An Na
Okay, so this isn't the most professional interview out there, but it's pretty cool that An Na sat down with a teenager and was willing to answer a bunch of probing questions.
The 60 Second Recap
Not sold on this book yet? Here's a quick review, just for you hard-sells out there.
A Video Summary
In case you feel like watching a summary, rather than reading a summary, here you go. There's also a whole "What is Korea like now?" part to the video. The catch? It doesn't really mention much about the domestic abuse in the family…
An Na's Name
Straight from the author's mouth—all you need to know about the author's name.
For Audiobook Listeners
You're thinking about getting the audiobook version, but you're just not sure whether or not you want to subject yourself to a cheesy reading of the book. Here's an excerpt of the audiobook reading, so you can decide whether or not it is cheesy.
Cover for A Step From Heaven
Just in case you haven't seen the book yet, here's what it looks like…
An Na—Who Are You?
If you're dying to know what the author looks like, here you go.