"As a small girl living in Korea, Young Ju Park leads a relatively carefree life, although she is often aware of the unhappiness of her father, mother, and her paternal grandmother. Young’s four-year-old mind reasons that they are all unhappy because they are separated from her grandfather who has gone to live in heaven. When she and her parents board an airplane to fly across the sea, she assumes that they are going to heaven to join him. Instead she finds herself in the United States, an unfamiliar and unwelcoming place, with no grandfather to greet them and, worse, no grandmother – she has stayed behind in Korea. They have come to America for the promise of a better life, Young’s parents tell her. But her parents still seem unhappy in this new place, understandably so, since they’re living with relatives and working at menial jobs. In the years that follow, even the birth of a cherished son and the purchase of their own home doesn’t seem to make things better, as Young’s father sinks deeper and deeper into alcoholism and depression. For Young, attending school where everyone speaks English and expects her to act like an American girl is challenging enough, but at home she’s still expected to uphold Korean cultural values, something that gets harder for her to do as she grows older. An Na’s stunning first novel adroitly depicts Young’s development and growth from early childhood by showing the complexities of her world, screened through the mind of her character through time. We see Young, even as a small child, trying to piece things together on an intellectual as well as an emotional level. Her struggle to comprehend the difficulties of her family life movingly realizes itself in a mature understanding of her mother, which allows Young to take some courageous steps into the adult world. CCBC categories: Fiction for Young Adults. (KTH; April 30") -©2001 Cooperative Children’s Book Center
Classroom Discussion Ideas
- Have you ever felt like you had to act differently at home than you did at school or with friends?
- How do you feel about expecting someone from another country to “act American?” How would you feel if you moved to another country and were expected to not act like “an American?”