Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Book Review Club - A Step from Heaven

A Step from Heaven
An Na
middle grade - young adult

Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been one month since my last posting.

I have a really good excuse! Honest.

I'm bogged down in MFA thesis writing. I have to hand in the rough draft on Friday, which means I've had a whole 2.5 weeks to research and write it out. Stress. Where would I be without you?

Still, I wouldn't miss The Book Review Club for anything so I've surfaced for a few short, glorious moments to commune with the outside world...and remind myself, there is an outside world.

Here we go.

A Step from Heaven is the story of a Korean girl, Yung Ju, and her family as they move from Korea to the United States. The story follows the trials the move presents for all of the family members. The father becomes increasingly abusive, until Yung Ju is faced with either turning him in to save her mother's life (as well as her own), or turning a blind eye yet again.

Gripping stuff.

From a craft angle, I really enjoyed the vignette format An Na used to tell her story. The piece begins with Yung Ju and her father at the ocean. He is teaching her to swim. It is an endearing moment. The father is not just a brute, but he loves his daughter. Also, the scene highlights water, which is an underlying current throughout the book.

By telling the story in vignettes, the effect is very aquatic. The vignettes lap against the reader's mind like small waves. Building. Building. Ever building. Until the climax of the story when Yung Ju saves her mother and with one phone call, sweeps her entire family onto a new, healthier emotional trajectory.

The one issue I had with the piece is that, since it begins when Yung Ju is four, she refers to everyone in her family with their Korean titles, i.e. Mother is Uhmma, Grandmother is Halmoni, and Father is Apa. It might just be me, but it took me a chapter to figure out who each of the titles refers to. In the end, I caught on, but it caused me a great deal of initial confusion, as well as raised the question, if I plan to tell a story in first person, with a non-native English speaker, and want to stay true to character, how do I bring in the names of the people closest to my character without confusing my reader? It's a tough question. This approach did not feel satisfactory for me, but at the same time, I am hard pressed to come up with a better one, other than to abandon the foreign names and use ones in English. Tough call.

Nevertheless, this is a phenomenal read. The writing is tight. The flow even. The climb to the climax excellent. The characters well-rounded. And it is fairly quick. So, if you are looking for a short, craft-packed, well-written piece, look no further. A Step from Heaven is your piece.

For other great reads, check out our fearless leader, Barrie Summy's, blog!

Now back to that nagging thesis. Ugh.


Keri Mikulski said...

Good luck with your thesis! And thanks for the review. :) xoxo

Sarah Laurence said...

You are good to still post your review. Good luck with your thesis!

The multi-faced abusive father sounds like an interesting character. Often the bad guys are simply demonized in those types of books. You always pick great books to review.

Interesting observation on non-native narration. I’ve used dialogue to help tag unclear terms. Currently I’m employing 2 narrators, one American and one British, to tell a multi-cultural story without losing the reader.

Barrie said...

You know I have to read this! Do you think it would be too rough for child #4? What if we read it together? Oh, and thanks for the "fearless leader" moniker. Ha!! :) Good luck with your thesis (not that you need luck!)!