Books & More from the Teen Scene

Book reviews and other reflections from one of Oregon's young adult librarians

“A Step from Heaven” by An Na November 14, 2011

Na, An. A Step from Heaven.Asheville, N.C.: Front Street., 2001. 156 pp. ISBN: 1886910588

A Step from Heaven cover

Images courtesy of


Young Ju does not really understand where she is going when her parents decide to emigrate from Korea to America when she is four. As life in America unfolds and proves deeply disappointing, it is clear that her parents also did not fully understand this decision or the depths of anger and despair it would cause in their family.


Imagine being four years old and leaving the world as you know it.

Were any of you born in another country? Do you speak one language at home and another at school?

Have you known anyone who doesn’t speak English well? What have you tried in order to communicate with them?

An Na’s book “A Step from Heaven” tells a story of one family who leaves Korea, full of hopes and dreams about a better life in America. Instead, it is very frustrating because they don’t always understand what is being said and what is expected. Young Ju goes to school and finds so many things confusing. Her parents work hard – taking two jobs each, but they are always poor and there is a lot of anger in the house.

The difficulties mount as Young Ju’s father begins drinking heavily and lashes out physically at his family. On the very worst night, Young Ju finally calls 9-1-1.

“Please,” I whisper and take a gulp of air. “Send help.”

“Tell me what is going on, miss.”

“My father is killing my mother.”

It is then she understands truly how far they have come from home – much farther than “A Step from Heaven.”

Awards/Honors (source:

  • 2001 National Book Award Finalist
  • 2002 Children’s Book Award in YA Fiction – International Reading Association
  • 2005 CaliforniaCollections Selection
  • 2005 Asian American Booklist, Grades 9 and Up, Read AcrossAmerica, National Education Association
  • 2001 – 2003 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature, Text in Children and Young Adult Fiction – Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association
  • 2004 Reading List – Women’s Division Reading Program Committee, General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church
  • 2003 – 2004 Gateway Readers Award Nominee,MissouriAssociation of School Libraries
  • 2003 – 2004 William Allen White Children’s Book Award master list
  • 2002 Notable Books for a Global Society – International Reading Association
  • 2002 Notable Children’s Book – American Library Association
  • 2002 Best Book for Young Adults – American Library Association
  • 2002 Children’s Books of Distinction Award – Riverbank Review
  • 2002 Fanfare Book – The Horn Book Honor List
  • 2002 Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Award
  • 2002 CCBC Choices
  • 2002 Children’s Literature Choice List
  • 2002 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Master List
  • 2002 Amelia Bloomer Project List
  • 2002 White Ravens – International Youth Library ofMunich
  • 2002 Notable Books for the Language Arts – NCTE
  • 2002 Notable Books for a Global Society, Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest group of the IRA
  • 2001 Editor’s Choice – Booklist
  • 2001 New York Times Book Review Notable Book
  • 2001 Best Books – School Library Journal
  • 2001 Kiriyama Prize Notable Book Shortlist
  • 2001 Best Children’s Books – Publishers Weekly
  • 2001 Best Book –
  • 2001 Book Links Lasting Connections
  • 2001 Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children
  • 2001 Top 10 Youth First Novels – Booklist

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