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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Your House Will Pay: Race and Justice in Modern Los Angeles

The overwhelming sentiment regarding Steph Cha's fantastic literary thriller Your House Will Pay about race and justice in modern Los Angeles is "Why isn't this novel a HUGE hit?!" That's what two booksellers I work with have said, and it's the reason I picked it up....and they're right! This novel should be a smash, and maybe it still will be, but it's definitely flying under the radar right now.

Though it has only 2,600 ratings on Goodreads (that's a tiny number for a book with as much pre-pub buzz as this one had), it still has an impressive 4.1 average rating. It also recently won the Los Angeles Times 2020 Book Prize for best Thriller. Hopefully that's a sign that this book is starting to gain momentum. (It was published in October, 2019.)

With commentary on police violence, racism, Black Lives Matter, viral videos, and more, it's a novel of our times, for sure. But it's based on an actual crime that happened in 1991 — except, to tell you what that is gives away a major plot point you should read to discover yourself.

The first scene in the novel, though, is a riot due to a Los Angeles movie theater showing New Jack City denying entry to some African Americans who had already bought tickets. This, which mirrors real-life violence around the movie's opening, was only a few days after the widely viewed Rodney King beating, so tensions were already high.

Then, we fast-forward to modern Los Angeles, and the story of two families, one Korean, one African American. Grace Park is 27, a pharmacist at her family's store, and still living at home. Grace is fairly sheltered, so when the big reveal of the novel happens, she's not really equipped to deal with everything that happens as a result.

Shawn, however, present as a 12-year-old kid at the opening 1991 riot scene, is picking up his cousin Ray from jail — Ray's just finished a 10-year stint. Shawn is a former gangster himself, but has gotten his life together, and now lives with his girlfriend and her young daughter. Shawn has helped raise Ray's two kids while he was in jail, as well.

The fates of these two families will soon collide in the present, just as they did in the past. The collision, then as now, is because of an act of violence. And Cha deals skillfully with all the moral complexity presented in the conflict between these two families.

Despite covering 28 years, this is a taut, tense thriller. There is certainly a lot going on here, but Cha deftly handles these several threads of story, weaving them into a ball seething with racial tension, family strife, and so much more. Highly recommended!

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