“Mi Gook. This is a magic word.” -- Young Ju, A STEP FROM HEAVEN
A collection of thirty-one vignettes, A STEP FROM HEAVEN is Korean-American author An Na’s first novel. When four-year-old Young Ju discovers her family plans to move to Mi Gook--America, she can’t help but be happy. Reading her parents' expressions, she knows that America means something "good" to them.
In Mi Gook, her Apa-father says:
“Everyone can make lots of money even if they did not go to an important school in the city …”Upon reaching America, Young Ju's parents quickly discover that immigrant life is not easy. They end up making a meager living, only able to afford renting a dilapidated house in an unsafe neighborhood.
It’s not until her brother, Joon, is born, that Young Ju understands her position in the home. Gender roles are clear: fathers are never to be questioned, sons are favored, and women who do not acquiesce are punished.
The day her father brags that her brother could someday grow up to be president, is the day she sees an opportunity to win his favor, by suggesting she could also do the same. In reply, he laughs and says:
“You are a girl, Young Ju.”Although this statement hurts her deeply, it doesn't extinguish her spirit. By the time she’s reached the ninth grade, Young Ju has toughened up. She’s made the honor roll and become best-friends with a girl named Amanda Doyle. Amanda and her family provide the safety net she needs when her own parents are consumed by work.
Problem is that Apa doesn’t approve of his daughter’s American friend. Young Ju's defiance of her father when he forbids their friendship is what leads to the explosive scene in the novel that changes the family forever.
A STEP FROM HEAVEN is short but filled with many poignant scenes of a daughter yearning for her father's love, as she struggles with assimilation. It's also a sometimes sad, but thought-provoking read about the challenges immigrants face when they first come to this country.
Have you had to assimilate somehow? If so, what does assimilation mean to you? If not, what do you think it means?
“Your life can be different, Young Ju. Study and be strong. In American women have choices.” -- Uhmma--Mother, A STEP FROM HEAVEN
To learn more about the author An Na, please visit her author site.
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