Steph Cha: Your House Will Pay

I love being knocked out by a writer I’ve never heard of. Such is the case with LA writer Stephanie Cha, whose Your House Will Pay is set in LA during the summer of 2019, when a police shooting involving a black teenager inflames racial unrest and protests erupt throughout the city.

9780062868855The book is based on a true story that takes place almost 30 years before it begins, when a Korean grocery store owner shot a Black teenager in the back of the head after accusing her of stealing. The crime was caught on video, and although the shooter was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, she never went to jail.

Cha tells the story of two families—one Black, the other Korean-American—whose lives collide as both are drawn into the cauldron of racial tension and violence. She describes each family with cultural sensitivity and skillfully builds suspense as she leads to the point where their stories intersect.

The author of a crime trilogy also set in LA, Cha clearly knows her territory. She says she began writing Your House Will Pay in 2014 right after Michael Brown’s murder, but it could have been written last week. It’s that prescient. It’s also filled with insight about the ripple effects of violence and social injustice.

Here’s a taste of Cha:

Los Angeles—this was supposed to be at the end of the frontier, land of sunshine, promised land, last stop for the immigrant, the refugee, the fugitive, the pioneer. It was Shawn’s home, where his mother and sister had lived and died. But he had left, and so had most of the people he knew, chased out, priced out, native children living in exile. And he saw the fear and rancor here in the ones who’d stayed. The city of good feeling, of tolerance and progress and loving thy neighbor was also a city that shunned and starved and killed its own. No wonder was it that it huffed and heaved, ready to blow, because the city was human, and humans could only take so much.

This is an important book, one that takes us behind the headlines and portrays real people, all of whom live as “others” in this country, dealing with racial injustice and profound loss. Cha’s timing is uncanny.