A Step from Heaven
This is the story of Young Ju, a Korean-born girl who moves to America with her parents when she is five years old. The flight to California is Young Ju’s first and while going up and up and up into the sky, she concludes that they are on their way to Heaven — Heaven is in America! In America, her father does not get a high-paying job and they are not able to buy a big house as they dreamed. Initially they live with Apa’s sister and her American husband. Young Ju’s mother is pregnant. When Uhmma objects to Apa’s plan to move them into a rented duplex, Apa becomes violently angry. He blames Uhmma for everything — and in a gut-wrenching scene Young Ju’s father slaps her mother — “I do not see Apa’s hand. It is too fast. I only hear the slap, loud as breaking glass. …[b]lood drips down her chin. Her lips are broken grapes.” Young Ju goes to kindergarten and begins the acculturation process. Her brother, Joon, is born the following summer and she is rudely awakened to the fact that her father does not value her as highly as he values his son. He wants to turn Joon into a man, but his methods are outmoded and inappropriate — sometimes abusive. He loses the ability to control his own behavior, his drinking increases, and he hurts his family both emotionally and physically. Young Ju’s hardworking and self-sacrificing mother holds the family together as best she can. A Step From Heaven portrays Young Ju’s growth in a foreign culture. Her family life is insular, dominated by the mores and traditions of her native land. Ill-equipped as they are to function in the world they’ve chosen, they each respond in a way true to their character. An Na’s language authentically reflects the process of acculturation as her protagonist, Young Ju, grows to maturity.