Your House Will Pay
Steph Cha
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Buy *Your House Will Pay* by Steph Cha online

Your House Will Pay
Steph Cha
320 pages
October 2019
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Latasha Harlins was a 15-year-old African-American girl shot in the head by a 51-year-old Korean woman tried and convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Some have cited the shooting as one of the causes of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Cha echoes Latasha's death, utilizing two separate narrative lines that resonate and converge like a perspective drawing in a powerful emotional twist.

Shawn waits outside the prison for his cousin, Ray Holloway. He knows the name of Rodney King, and that his Aunt Sheila said it "wasn't right." He recalls being thirteen years old, his sister Ava in the next room. He remembers the riot, the spread of nerves, the sweat and energy:

The air smelled like smoke and piss, and in every direction, people ran like wild children, hollering and thrashing...The night and the mob and the violent roar— he knew, with instinctive clarity, that these things wouldn’t hurt them. If this was fire, they were flame. They were part of it, safe within the blaze.

Cha toggles perspectives, to June 2019 and Grace, a Korean American attending a memorial for slain local boy Alfonso Curiel. Many of the attendees remember Ava's violent murder years ago. Grace feels as though it is wrong and selfish of her to look away when there was so much injustice in the world. She's envious of her sister Miriam, who has achieved a measure of independence from their mother, Yvonne, whose deep, dark secret drives Cha's story.

Yvonne was only 19 when she married Paul. "Day by day, dollar by dollar," they built new lives in this foreign place so that her daughters could grow up free and clear and be American. Yvonne wanted nothing more than to have Grace take over the pharmacy after the culmination of their decades of labor. For her part, Grace hungers for the truth. Miriam says that they grew up sheltered because their parents only ever talked to them about "their tiny universe." Shawn meanwhile, is haunted by Ava's death. He battles a constant seasick feeling of being "loosely held by the world." Now that Ray is finally out of prison and in their house on Ramona Road in Palmdale ("a far cry from South Central Los Angeles"), this arid suburbia acts as the perfect breeding ground for the machinations of a fresh parolee.

Cha builds on the relationship between Shawn and Ray. Ray likes to sentimentalize his past, "the goofing and partying that came before." He also talks about those days "like a washed-up athlete reminiscing about high school" Shawn admits there's a part of him that sees his cousin "with the smoldering resentment of a rival." Shaun later connects with Grace beneath the shadows of a fiery Chandleresque Los Angeles. Shawn eventually realizes that he can no longer hide behind Ava's ghost. Despite the obvious obstacles, the bond between the two characters gives this novel much of its heart, the brutal truth crashing over Grace's brief benevolent fantasy: "this isn't a story of a girl, it was the story of her death." Grace has always believed that the world was fair and reasonable. Once she learns the truth about her mother, she knows that the system failed the agitators and conspiracy theorists.

For the first time in Grace's life, her mother's identity shifts and becomes someone she doesn't understand, "someone she'd been, underneath, all along." Shawn has locked Ava away, but now the seal to her fate will finally be broken. Your House Will Pay examines what it means to achieve justice, as well as guilt, grievous mistakes and their consequences, and the punishing ramifications of willful ignorance.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2020

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