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Your House Will Pay

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A powerful and taut novel about racial tensions in L.A., following two families—one Korean-American, one African-American—grappling with the effects of a decades-old crime

In the wake of the police shooting of a black teenager, Los Angeles is as tense as it’s been since the unrest of the early 1990s. Protests and vigils are being staged all over the city. It’s in this dangerous tinderbox that two families must finally confront their pasts.

Grace Park lives a sheltered existence: living at home with her Korean-immigrant parents, working at the family pharmacy, and trying her best to understand why her sister Miriam hasn’t spoken to their mother in years. The chasm in her family is growing wider by the day and Grace is desperate for reconciliation, and frustrated by the feeling that her sister and parents are shielding her from the true cause of the falling out.

Shawn Matthews is dealing with a fractured family of his own. His sister, Ava, was murdered as a teenager back in 1991, and this new shooting is bringing up painful memories. Plus, his cousin Ray is just released from prison and needs to reconnect with their family after so many years away. While Shawn is trying his best to keep his demons at bay, he’s not sure Ray can do the same.

When another shocking crime hits LA, the Parks and the Matthewses collide in ways they never could have expected. After decades of loss, violence, and injustice, tensions come to a head and force a reckoning that could clear the air or lead to more violence.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published October 15, 2019

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Steph Cha

16 books575 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,320 reviews
Profile Image for Steph.
Author 16 books575 followers
April 9, 2019
I've been working on this book since the end of 2014, and while I get maybe one more shot at sifting for typos, I think I can finally say it's done. It's a bit of a departure from my P.I. series, a literary/social crime novel about two Los Angeles families, a contemporary story with deep roots in the black/Korean tensions of the early '90s. I've worked long and hard on it, so I'm not gonna qualify this: I think it's really good and I can't wait for you all to read it.
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,470 reviews9,369 followers
January 10, 2023

Oh, shoot. Wow, okay, Your House Will Pay sure packs a punch. I highly recommend the audiobook; chef's kiss!

Set in L.A., this novel examines racial tensions, grief and absolution, through the lens of two very different families tied together by a decades old crime.

Our protagonists, Grace Park and Shawn Matthews, aren't even aware of their connection to one another until after Grace's mother is shot outside of the Park family pharmacy.

As Grace tries to grapples with her mother being targeted, she discovers a long-buried family secret.

Through this discovery, she learns why her sister, Miriam, hasn't spoken to their mother in almost two years. Grace doesn't know how to react, or how to deal with the fact that her mother isn't who she thought.

Following a police shooting of a black teenager, as well as the recent release of his cousin, Ray, from prison, Shawn Matthews experiences a lot of painful memories resurfacing.

In the early-90s, when Shawn was a kid, his beloved sister, Ava, was shot. After the beating of Rodney King by L.A. police officers, the city was in turmoil. Ava's death occurred during that intense time period.

I'm trying to be very careful with what I write here. I don't want to spoil a single thing for anyone who may want to read this.

I thought the choices Cha made in the format of this story were incredible. It is so well done. I became engaged extremely quickly, the characters definitely draw you in, and keep you wanting to know more.

I thought it was cleverly plotted, alternating between the past and present timelines, as well as between Park and Matthews.

While the historical aspects demonstrate that not much has changed, we are still fighting the same fights when it comes to racism, police brutality and cultural mistrust within cities, I also think there is a lovely underlining message of hope.

That change can come. That we can break the mold. That we don't have to fall into the same patterns as those that came before us.

It really is a powerful message. One that I think is so important for a wide audience to ingest.

There were many times when a new fact would come to light where I would audibly gasp. It was rapid fire reveal, reveal, reveal, as it all comes together.

I felt so much for both Shawn and Grace, as well as their families. Imagining all they had been through, and the reasons why, really weighs on a heart.

This novel seems to be flying under the radar. I am really hoping this review will make at least one more person pick it up. The issues tackled are so topical and important.

Why can't that person be you!? Seriously, particularly in today's climate, this is such an important story. Grab a copy if you can. You won't be disappointed.

Profile Image for karen.
3,976 reviews170k followers
October 15, 2019

when i heard about this book, the first thing i thought (after "what a fantastic title that is!") was that it would be a readalike for All Involved, which was a sharp and gritty piece of crime fiction in which gang-affiliated characters used the racial tensions and violence of the l.a. riots in the aftermath of the rodney king verdict as an excuse to seek revenge for longstanding grudges, leading to a back-and-forth killing spree leaving many intended targets dead along with unaffiliated innocents caught in the crossfires.

but i was wrong, wrong, wrong, and while its central dramatic conflict occurs as a tangential result of the racially-charged atmosphere in los angeles following king’s beating, this is a different take altogether—far less violent and nihilistic and closer in tone to a book like Ask Again, Yes; it's a tragic-but-redemptive family drama with such strong current-day relevance and moral complexity that discerning book clubs should take note.

cha’s novel is based on a real-life incident; the death of fifteen-year-old african-american latasha harlins (here, ava matthews) who was shot in the back of the head by a korean convenience store owner named soon ja du (here, yvonne park/jung-ja han) in 1991, two weeks after the video of rodney king’s beating surfaced. du had accused latasha of shoplifting a bottle of orange juice, and their verbal altercation escalated into the physical before the fifty-one-year-old woman grabbed a gun and fired, killing the girl. when police arrived on the scene, they discovered that latasha had the money for the juice in her hand. du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter but served no jail time, an outcome contributing to the unrest that culminated in the riots.

Your House Will Pay is set in the summer of 2019, after yet another police shooting of an unarmed black teenage boy provokes community outrage. the city is a simmering powder keg of tension; an atmosphere of violence just about to erupt as cries for justice and the unhealed wounds of those still feeling betrayed by the ava matthews verdict rise up during a vigil attended by an influx of the sneering red-hat-wearing 'western boys' drawn to the scene by social media doing what it does best; riling people up and adding fuel to the fire, while the presumably more responsible professional media is no better, and tensions are high.

this increasingly fraught atmosphere is the backdrop for a tragedy of shakespearian proportions as the members of the two families most directly connected to ava matthews' death find their fates knotted together once more in the wake of another violent crime.

the story is shared between ava's brother shawn, who was with ava at the time of the shooting, and yvonne's sheltered daughter grace, who wasn't even born when the incident occurred, and knew nothing about it until now. these two characters are the anchor points around whom swirl the events of the past and present, and the wide-ranging emotions and actions of their families and friends, building a richly drawn and compelling story of the weight of secrets, shame, and guilt and the effects of a legacy of violence and injustice on families and communities in a country approaching its boiling point.

it's a helluva book, and cha resists applying the disingenuous balm of easy answers onto a conflict too deeply layered with scars and emotional pain to resolve smoothly, but she offers the possibility of healing, of recovering from the loss and rage and resisting the expectations of a world where private tragedies become public spectacle. sensitive and astute, it's a book we need right now, and it's a book that lingers, offering plenty to think about.

He remembered those six days of violence, fire and havoc wherever he looked, stumbling bodies and stunned, bleeding faces. He watched his city go up in flames, and under the sadness and rage, the exhilaration of rampage, he recognized the sparkle of hope. Rebirth—that was the promise of destruction. The olive branch, the rainbow, the good men spared to rebuild the earth.

But where was the new city? And who were the good men?

Los Angeles, this was supposed to be it. 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. This 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.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Bkwmlee.
372 reviews242 followers
November 12, 2019

4.5 stars

It’s not often that a book I read impacted me so much that I was rendered virtually speechless immediately afterwards — to the point that despite having finished this book several days ago, I had to wait to write this review because I needed time to regroup and gather my thoughts. The reason this book impacted me so much is because the subject matter it covered hit a little too close to home for me, as it brought back memories from 27 years ago and emotions that felt so real, I truly felt like I had been transported back in time to my childhood. Back then, my family lived in a little enclave of apartment buildings in Westchester, near its border with Inglewood in Los Angeles. Nearby, within walking distance, was a tiny strip mall with a donut shop, a laundromat, a small restaurant, and a Korean-owned liquor store on the very corner — a setup similar to the neighborhoods that the main characters in the book lived in during their youth.

The story, especially the events that took place during the “past” timeline of 1991 and 1992, was tremendously familiar to me because it aligned with much of what I remember experiencing growing up as an Asian American in the Los Angeles of the 1990s. I remember what happened to Latasha Harlins and the public outrage over the light sentence that Soon Ja Du ended up getting; I remember the already simmering tensions between the African American and Korean communities that were further exacerbated by the Harlins case; I remember the Rodney King beating that took place around that time as well as the infamous acquittal that came down a year later; and of course, I remember the LA Riots and the devastation that took place those 6 days. I was 13 years old at the time (around the same age as one of the main characters in the book when the story opened) and when the riots broke out, I remember most of us were still at school, anxiously waiting for our parents to come pick us up. Our school wasn’t close in proximity to the riot area fortunately, however, due to the chaotic nature of things and the fear that the rioting might spread to other areas, it was advised for all the schools to shut down for the day. As we waited for our rides, there was a lot of nervous chatter among our group of friends, as many of them either had long commutes home or they would have to pass by the areas where much of the rioting was beginning to gain traction. Adding to those fears, we had heard that rioters had started venting out their anger at innocent bystanders, stopping random cars and pulling people out and beating them (a “rumor” that was confirmed later that night on the news when we all witnessed in horror the terrifying events that unfolded at the intersection of Florence and Normandie). The looting and burning down of stores followed, with the devastation spilling over to surrounding cities – news coverage showed chaotic scenes, with the destruction hitting heaviest in South Los Angeles and Koreatown (which had become a target due to the Latasha Harlins case). It was the worst time to be out in the streets – in fact, it was the worst time to be anywhere other than hidden away in the safety of our own homes with doors locked, windows barred, blinds drawn.

The experience of reading this book felt almost surreal to me. Even though the entire story was a fictionalized version based on past events and many of the details had been changed, plus a majority of the timeline focused on present day (2019) and how the various characters dealt with the aftermath of what had happened so long ago, the memories it triggered were enough to bring the real-life events the story was based on back to life for me. The author Steph Cha did a great job capturing the sentiments and perspectives of both the African American and Korean communities during that period in history, but what floored me the most was how vividly she was able to depict the realities of what life was like growing up in Los Angeles in the 1990s, not just for people of color, but also for immigrants and others who were part of the community at the time.

Ten years after the riots occurred, on the way to visit friends, I happened to be driving through one of the areas hit hardest by the riots and I will never forget the shock I felt seeing how much of the area never got rebuilt. Steph Cha captured my sentiments exactly when, in the book, she described what one of the main characters, Shawn Matthews, saw when he was surveying the devastation that had taken place around him right after the fictionalized riots in the story: “Wherever he went, he saw the extent of the ruin, the cooled remnants of days of unchecked wrath. Where there had been buildings, there were now building frames like children’s pictures scribbled in pencil, gray and blurred and skeletal, on the verge of disintegration. Roll-up doors defaced by graffiti and ash, the metal warped so they’d never close again. Rubble and trash littered the streets like fallen teeth, like dead skin, the rot of a ravaged body.” This was actually the reality of what I saw as well, many years later – and even now, nearly 3 decades later, some remnants of the devastation still exists, albeit in smaller pockets.

To come across a book like this one, that captures a history and time period and even elements of a culture that I was once so familiar with on a personal level – THIS is one of the reasons why I read. With that said, I did struggle with the rating on this one, wavering between 4.5 and 5 stars…in the end, I decided on 4.5 stars, mostly because I’m not sure how I feel about the story’s ending and the way things played out. Needless to say, this is a book I definitely recommend, though word of warning, this is not an easy one to read, especially if you have a personal connection to parts of the story like I did.

Received ARC from HarperCollins (Ecco) via NetGalley.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,425 reviews8,319 followers
December 14, 2019
A taut novel that explores Korean and Black racial tensions that arose amidst the LA race riots of 1992. Steph Cha fictionalizes a real-life event: in 1991, Soon Ja Du, a Korean female convenience store owner, shot and killed Latasha Harlins (in the novel: Ava Matthews), a 15-year-old African American girl. While Du was tried and convicted of voluntary manslaughter she received no jail time. In Your House Will Pay, Cha writes about the aftermath of this event in the present day, from the perspectives of the families of the victim and the perpetrator. These families find their fates intertwined once more when another act of violence occurs, which sets the stage for both further injustice and a chance of hard-won understanding.

I appreciated the complexity in which Cha writes about race relations between Asian and Black communities within Your House Will Pay. She avoids easy or pat resolutions to ongoing and nuanced issues. I like how Cha portrays the Korean American characters’ honest emotional responses, both the older daughter of the shooter’s political fieriness as well as the shooter and her younger daughter’s reprehensible collusion in anti-blackness. Cha does a nice job of subtly yet assertively pointing the finger at the police, showing how conflicts between Asian and Black communities serve to uphold white supremacy and the police state. The novel reads like a thriller and I always felt compelled to flip further whenever I picked up the book.

I wanted some more interiority from the characters, especially toward the end of the book, more of a sense of their growth and understanding and emotional journey and resolution or lack thereof. Still, I would recommend this book especially to my fellow Asian Americans and others who are ignorant of the LA race riots or race relations between Black and Asians within the United States broadly. I recognize that this novel may be hard to read given its in-detail descriptions of violence, anti-blackness, police acting in unhelpful and racist ways, etc. especially for those who already experience those stressors in daily life. Thanks to Steph Cha for writing this, and fellow Asians, let’s address our community’s anti-blackness and band together with other racially marginalized groups to fight white supremacy!
Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews45.5k followers
May 25, 2021
For every moment I spent reading this book, I don't think my forehead relaxed once. I was a constant >:o emoticon, in turn perplexed and dismayed and angry and sad and above all riveted.

It's the kind of book that you have to interrupt yourself reading to look around and tell someone about it, both because you need a break from the unrelenting nature of it and because it's a story everyone should know.

I first added this book after reading Minor Feelings, in which it's recommended reading if you want to learn more about the killing of Latasha Harlins and the LA riots - a story I admittedly didn't know much about.

This is a fictionalized retelling, but to be honest, I think I learned more from it than I would have from a nonfiction account. The amount that I felt, the realness that stemmed from the hurt and the anger and the prejudices and the very genuine lives of all that were involved - I could never get that from the Wikipedia article. (But yes, I did read that too.)

Bottom line: I think everyone should read this.


hard and real and excellent. wow.

review to come / 4 stars

currently-reading updates

i never feel smarter than when i'm reading a book that another book recommended.


taking lily's idea and reading only books by asian authors this month!

book 1: the incendiaries
book 2: last night at the telegraph club
book 3: dear girls
book 4: sigh, gone
book 5: frankly in love
book 6: emergency contact
book 7: your house will pay
Profile Image for Michael David (on hiatus).
618 reviews1,485 followers
August 4, 2020
YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY is one of the best, and most important, books I have read this year.

Los Angeles, 1991: Just after the brutal beating of Rodney King, and the police shooting and killing of an unarmed black teenager, tension and unrest in the communities are at an all-time high. Shawn and his family will be affected.

Years later, in 2019, Shawn, now an adult, is still dealing with the events of the past. Grace and her family live just outside of L.A., and her and Shawn’s world are about to collide in ways neither of them expected. This is the story of an African-American family and a Korean-American family, and how they will both deal with the consequences of the past...as well as the prevalent problems that haven’t seemed to change almost 30 years later.

This book was released last year, but could not be read at a better time. It touches on so many issues that the nation is currently experiencing. Author Steph Cha dives deep into the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, racism, riots, protests, and murder. It’s eye-opening, heartbreaking, anger-inducing, and one of the most powerful books I have read. I wasn’t aware of the racial tensions between the Black and Korean communities during and after the LA riots. I feel that I learned a lot. The book really delves into both of the families, and care is given to make sure each character has a strong background that helps explain their actions, even though you may never fully understand them firsthand. There is so much more I’d like to say, but I don’t think my words can convey how astounding and special this novel is.

An interesting item to note is that while this is a work of fiction, the author based it on the 1991 murder of 15-year old Latasha Harlins. The author’s note gives more information on this that I won’t reveal here, and also lets us know that if we would like to learn more about Latasha, we can read “The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots” by Brenda Stevenson. I very much look forward to reading it.

Thank you to my friend, Christina, whose fantastic review of this powerful and meaningful book put it on my radar.
Profile Image for Neale .
285 reviews126 followers
January 19, 2020
This book is shortlisted for the 2020 TOB.

Yvonne Park, an elderly Korean woman is shot while closing her store just after seven o’clock in the evening. However, Yvonne Park is not the name she was born with. Jung-Ja Han is the woman’s birth name.

Yvonne changed her name to hide from an incident in which she shot and killed a young black girl back in 1991. Yvonne thought that the girl was trying to steal a bottle of milk and when she confronted her a fight broke out between them and it ended with Yvonne shooting the young girl in the back of the head as she walked away, killing her.

These are pretty much the only details we know at first, and these details are only slowly given up by Cha as the narrative unfolds. Is there a connection between the two shootings?

The narrative structure will switch perspective, with one chapter covering the dead girl’s family, predominantly from the view of her brother, Shawn, and the next chapter, the Korean family, mainly through the eyes of Grace, Yvonne’s daughter.

The narrative will also jump back into the past to help fill in gaps like a jigsaw puzzle, bringing the reader closer to what the real story is.

With this structure the reader gets to see how the shooting affects both families and that both families are targeted and harassed and how the damage passes through generations. The two families of different race are forever linked together by these five seconds of history. Grace finds it particularly difficult as she was never told about the shooting and kept in the dark by the family about the whole incident.

After an incident with a young man who works for an online news site. Grace finds her email account is inundated with hate mail. Savage ravings and racist threats. They are all from people she does not even know, a knife twist to the world of hyper social media where people can hide behind there keyboards.

Social Media in the modern world can be dangerous and vicious. Information can spread quickly regardless of whether it is true or false. Opinions can be rocketed off into cyberspace almost immediately after an event has happened. Millions of people able to vent and rave having only a fraction of the full story. A snippet of video footage. Social media becomes saturated with opinions and innuendo. And these opinions, inevitably spread like a cancerous growth. But really, don’t we have ourselves to blame? Don’t we crave these stories? Don’t these stories metastasize into monsters because of our cravings?

The police suspect that it may be a revenge shooting because of Shawn’s sister being shot by Yvonne back in 1992. Matters are not helped by the fact that Shawn’s cousin has just spent the last ten years in jail and both Shawn and his cousin used to be members of a gang called the crips. Things get worse when the Crips take credit for the shooting and Ray is arrested.

This novel is wonderful because of its confrontational nature. What would you do if your mother shot a girl in the back of the head? Would it change your perception, your love for her? What if your mother had worked her whole life to provide a decent life for you? Would you question your beliefs about your mother? Did she shoot the girl in shock after being attacked or did she do it in anger? Could you forgive somebody for shooting your mother? The novel really gets you thinking.

It also gets you thinking about our justice system and its flaws, is true justice always served? Of course not. Is the Judicial system biased against racial minorities? Do the rich get a better defence than the poor, and how can this system be changed. Justice is supposed to be equal for everybody, but it simply is not. The vital question is how do we change and improve it?

I loved this novel. It is loosely based on an event that truly happened, but the narrative that Cha creates around this event is wonderful. The characters so real and believable. The questions that you will find yourself deliberating upon finishing will stick with you. We live in an imperfect world, a world flawed in so many ways, but we must never stop trying to improve it for everybody.
Great book! 4.5 Stars!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the briliance of the title of the novel and how it has different connotations. Both families, or houses are paying in so many ways. The house reference can also be used to describe the gang related "payback". Superb.

There is also a wonderul interview with Cha here - https://www.collinsbookblog.com/post/...
Profile Image for Ceecee.
1,909 reviews1,438 followers
January 18, 2020
This story is set in Los Angeles and is about two worlds colliding - one Korean-American family and one African-American. It is based on a true story of the shooting of Latasha Harlins in 1991 by a convenience store owner. This story also starts in 1991 one week after the beating of Rodney King when Ava Matthews, her brother Shawn, cousin Ray and friend Duncan cut school and go to a movie which is cancelled due to overselling. A riot and looting follows the cancellation as much due to the tinder dry atmosphere in LA post King - it took little for there to be an eruption of violence. A few days later Ava is shot dead whilst trying to buy milk, by Korean store owner Jung-Ja Han. Han is charged with manslaughter but served no jail time to the horror of Ava’s family. She then disappears. Shawn goes off the rails for a bit after this and served some jail time but got his life back on track. Fast forward to June 2019 when Grace and Miriam Park attend a memorial for another black teenager shot by LAPD where one of the key note speakers is Ava’s Aunt Sheila. On the same day, Ava’s cousin and Sheila’s son Ray is released for federal prison and is reunited with his family and cousin Shawn. This is a story of racial tension, family conflict and dynamics, revenge and the search for redemption.

The book is very well written switching from family to family easily and captures the tensions within and outside of both families. The closeness of Shawn’s family is obvious although there is some tension and jealousy between Shawn and Ray but Aunt Sheila is the glue that keeps them together. There are some heart breaking descriptions of what Ava meant to Shawn and the ripple effects on his family and that of the shooter. Grace Park is a pharmacist and still lives at home with her mother and father. I think the descriptions of her family life and how her parents settled in the US from Korea is especially interesting. There is division between Miriam and her parents but we don’t know why for a long time until it is revealed in a most dramatic way. This is when the two different worlds collide with disastrous consequences testing both families to the extreme.

This book reveals so much about society in that it shines a light on inequality in the justice system, on racial tension, the devastating effects that violence has on families and how this can sometimes lead the impressionable young into gang culture. It shows the divided nature of LA too - a city of tolerance but where sectors of society feel shunned. However, this is not exclusive to LA, this is a problem that goes way beyond US borders.

Overall, this is a very relevant book that proves sensitive issues and which really makes you think. The end is good and you hope that despite the many problems in Shawn’s and the Park family that some form of justice has been served and although reconciliation is perhaps too much to ask for, possibly there is some resolution.

Thanks to NetGalley and Faber and Faber for the ARC

Expected U.K. publication 16/1/20
Profile Image for Meike.
1,473 reviews2,305 followers
October 7, 2020
"Two households, both alike in dignity
(In fair Los Angeles, where we lay our scene),
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean."

This tragedy of Shakespearean proportions is based on the real case of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old Black girl who was shot in the back of her head in a convenience store after an altercation with the Korean store owner Soon Ja Du. Latasha Harlins died, Soon Ja Du received no jail time (despite the video evidence). Korean-American writer Steph Cha has fictionalized this story and thus created a novel which shows the dynamics of escalating violence and how the wish for justice or even revenge leads to more and more people becoming guilty and ultimately the destruction of familial bonds and human lives - "A plague o' both your houses!" (Mercutio has always been my favorite character in R+J).

We meet the Matthews family who has lost 16-year-old Ava in an incident modelled after the story of Latasha Harlins, and we also meet the Park family, in which Yvonne, the mother, is based on Soon Ja Du. Everyone - siblings, parents, children, spouses, nieces, nephews, friends - has been or will be affected by the shooting and its repercussions, and everyone feels betrayed: Why was Ava's brother incarcerated for a non-violent crime while Yvonne could start a new life under a new name? How are Yvonne's children supposed to deal with the fact that their mother is murderer? Is Ava's aunt (a character based on real-life activist Denise Harlins) right to accept distorted, saint-like media images of Latasha if it serves the cause of her activism? 28 years after the death of Ava, the tension cumulates in a second shooting...

While the main part of the story is set in 2019, Cha also takes us to 1991, when the shooting of Ava/Latasha took place, and to the Los Angeles riots. To be honest, I was unaware of the role of Korean-Americans during the riots and the repercussions for this community (to my defense: I'm a European), so in this regard, the novel was eye-opening for me. Many of the topics Cha touches upon a highly relevant and morally challenging, like the role of social media and the media in general, the relation between justice and dignity and the possibility of forgiveness.

But while I find the topics of the novel extremely relevant and intriguing, the writing is rather plain and could be more concise. What's worse, the pacing is off: The first 30 % (!) are more or less exposition, and many scenes are excessively descriptive, which unneccessarily slows down the text. I caught myself skipping paragraphs because I wanted the author to get to the damn point.

An ambitious political novel about racism, violence, intergenerational trauma and deeds that can't be undone, but more thorough editing could have elevated this effort considerably. You can learn more about the book on our latest podcast episode (in German).
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,585 reviews1,985 followers
May 8, 2019
This is an ambitious book. It's trying to tell a very specific story, tied deeply to a particular place and time, exploring the repercussions of an often-forgotten set of racial tension between Black and Korean people in Los Angeles. As Cha notes, the specifics are often lost in the larger story of Rodney King and the Watts riots. While it's very specific, it will also feel relevant to anyone living in the US right now, a time of protests and memorials and repeated unspeakable losses.

We see this story through two sets of eyes: Shawn grew up in the worst of it and got caught up in gangs and violence, but he's found his way through and settled in to a kind of stable adulthood, supporting his cousin's family while he's in prison. Shawn's sister Ava was gunned down as a teenager before there was a Black Lives Matter movement, and he still feels the loss. Grace is the dutiful daughter of Korean immigrants, working in her parents' pharmacy, moving aimlessly through her late 20's, reading terrible stories in the news and feeling bad but detached. Shawn and Grace are connected without realizing it, but as the story unfolds they will find old secrets coming back to light.

I think Cha builds a really interesting and current story with lots of layers to peel through. But I think she paints herself into a corner somewhat, I was dissatisfied with the ending even though I understand the logic behind it. It feels like the present, where we still don't know where things go from here, but it felt off to me. I think Grace gets a little too much of this story, too. She is called out for her often self-centered approach to the events of the book more than once, but she also gets to have equal billing in the narrative and I can't help but think that giving her less of it would make the book a little more balanced.

This isn't an escapist book, it feels an awful lot like reading the news, but I think Cha has captured a lot of the anxiety and concern of this moment incredibly well, definitely the strongest element of the book.
Profile Image for Carol.
348 reviews323 followers
February 29, 2020
***3.5 Stars*** A potent story based on an actual event during the 1992 LA race riots when a black, teenage girl was shot and killed by a Korean shop owner. This fictional novel moves between that timeline and current events to detail the aftereffects of that death on the lives of the two African American and Korean American families involved.

The characters are imperfect and the book’s resolution is complex reminding me (the reader) that sadly, not much has changed in race relations in the last 25-plus years.

Well-written and thought-provoking.
Profile Image for Michelle.
593 reviews447 followers
August 6, 2020

You know how a book can find you at the exact right moment? This is that book. It originally published last year, but it could not be more relevant than it is today. This story is told from two perspectives: a Korean Family (via Grace's perspective) and a Black Family (via Shawn's perspective). Given the title and the summary, I was wondering if there would be a nod to Romeo & Juliet, but I'm happy that the author (who is fantastic) took it in a different direction completely.

The prologue is slightly confusing, only in that at the beginning of any book you are trying to find your place in time and begin to figure out how characters fit together. I didn't quite understand the consequence, but it later made absolute sense how the prologue fit. (This is no way was a detriment to the book (see my 5 stars), but an observation I want to make regardless. I recommend after you read for a while, that you go back and re-read the prologue. It makes a lot more sense.)

Grace and Shawn are very different and have lived very different lives. Not to keep repeating myself, but I think Ms. Cha's use of telling this story from the perspective of both characters and their family was a brilliant way to present both sides of an event that reverberated for decades. I thought writing a book in the reflection of LA in the 1990s was particularly interesting to see now as an adult. (It was my 9th birthday when Rodney King was recorded being beaten by police), so I saw it on the Nightly News with my parents, but had no understanding of what I was watching. My parents sadly didn't explain it either (that I recall). They probably felt the information was something I didn't need to know about at 9, but I think we are all learning that those conversations are very much needed.)

I'm still working on how I feel about the ending, but that in no way takes away from the experience that is reading this book. This book is a MUST read. It does exactly what every GREAT story does - puts you in a situation/time/place that is different from your own so you can learn and observe without being there. This book is another gift to literature as to provide teaching moments for us all. We all can do better to lift each other up and help work together to fix our country.

Thank you to Netgalley, Ecco Books and the Buffalo Library for providing my copy. Steph Cha - you have a big fan in me.

Review Date: 08/05/2020
Publication Date: 10/15/19
Profile Image for Carolyn.
2,126 reviews604 followers
February 20, 2021
Steph Cha’s fictional novel is based on two events that sparked racial tensions in LA. The first was the brutal beating of Rodney King and the riots in 1992 that followed the acquittal of the LAPD officers responsible and the second was the 1991 shooting of a black teenage girl, Latasha Harlins by a Korean woman.

In this fictional tale of racial tension between African Americans and Korean Americans, the shooting of a black teenager, Ava Matthews, in 1991 has repercussions down the years and into the next generation for both families. Twenty eight years on from her death, LA is once again tense after yet another shooting of an unarmed black teenager by the LAPD and the protests in the streets that followed. While Ava’s family and that of the person who shot her have both moved forward as they get on with their lives, it seems that not much has changed in all that time, and Ava’s death still feels unavenged to her community.

This is a powerful story, especially at this time when the Black Lives Matter movement has become so prominent in calling out for equality and justice for all. By telling the story from the viewpoints of both families it gives us an intimate insight into their lives and the way they see events from their side of the racial divide. With religious and racial divisions and unrest rife around the world, it is so important to keep writing and thinking about these issues. 4.5★
Profile Image for Angie Kim.
Author 2 books9,313 followers
March 4, 2021
Your House Will Pay is a book I think should be required reading for everyone. Inspired by a real-life crime—the 1991 shooting of an unarmed Black teenager by a Korean immigrant grocer—it explores the complexities of justice, race relations, and family secrets like nothing I’ve read before. Heartbreaking, riveting, and powerful, it’s that perfect blend of page-turning suspense and gorgeous writing.
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,414 reviews7,415 followers
September 2, 2021
This was hands down the best book I read last year, and yet I never wrote a review for it . . . .

Your House Will Pay is a story of two families. It follows both the fictional retelling of the murder of Latasha Harlins (a case I will admit I knew nothing about and since I don’t read author notes wasn’t even aware was the inspiration behind this story even after I finished reading this book until coincidentally it was discussed on some news program) as well as covering the present day with the aftermath of a verdict in a fictional case of a police officer shooting an unarmed black teenager. It should go without saying it’s not a light read.

The timeliness of this story was spot on. The character development, pacing, flow from past to present, the pull no punches storytelling – nearly every page was necessary. I think it’s best to not know a whole lot more than the basics before picking this one up. Obviously you’ll be the only person who knows if you are up to basically “reading the news” with a story that shows how the more things change the more they stay the same. If you are okay with a book that is certainly not an escape from reality, this is simply brilliant.
Profile Image for Janet.
Author 19 books87.7k followers
September 26, 2019
Steph Cha's Your House Will Pay is simultaneously thrilling and thoughtful, a novel about the aftermath of a fictional grocery-store shooting in 1991, in South Los Angeles, just after the Rodney King verdict was announced. The pregnant wife of the Korean proprietor shoots and kills a 16 year old black girl in a rapidly escalating scene of anger, misapprehension and lethality--informed by a complex of relationships and events which Cha follows like the chain of radioactive ink spreading through the patient's veins in an x-ray.

The bulk of the action is the story of aftermath, how this one violent event affects the lives of the two families, Korean and black, and their communities-- and goes on affecting them over time. Told in alternating chapters from the point of view of 2019, the main characters are the murdered girl's younger brother, Shawn Matthews, now an ex-con working the straight and narrow as a moving man in Palmdale, taking care of his family and the family of his older cousin Ray, still in prison, and the woman's younger daughter Grace Park, a dutiful child who had not yet been born at the time of the shooting. The action begins as Grace learns for the first time in 2019 what her mother had done, and Ray comes out of prison to throw Shawn's carefully balanced life into chaos.

This is an urban tale which moves into the intersection of political and personal, racial injustice and community solidarity, the preservation of memory, and the ultimate problem of narrative, the simplification of people and situations into a certain package--all wrapped up in a terrific, fast-moving story of two characters trying to live with the truth.
Releases Oct. 15, 2019
Profile Image for David.
652 reviews304 followers
December 11, 2019
Two weeks after four LAPD officers were caught on camera "arresting" Rodney King, 15 year old Latasha Harlins is shot at point blank range by Korean store owner Soon Ja Du, her death captured on grainy convenience store footage.

It's the inspiration for what Steph Cha calls her social crime novel. Here, Ava Matthew is likewise shot by a Korean shopkeeper. 30 years later, Ava's brother Shawn is trying to move past the tragedy and lives a quiet live in Palmdale working as a mover. Their cousin Ray is just out of prison after a 10 year stint for armed robbery with a toy gun. Their lives are about to collide with Grace Park.

It's a story about processing grief and the possibility of grace. How people work through a tragedy in the moments after and how it lingers decades later. Even now one can see it preface #BlackLiveMatter and echo the LA riots in Watts almost 30 years prior. A powerful read. If you're looking for context, the National Geographic documentary "LA 92", that is comprised completely of footage from that era, is incredibly good. As well, the YouTube documentary "Sa I Gu" that focuses on the Korean women whose lives were irrevocably changed in the aftermath of the riots is equally wrenching.

Full review here: https://youtu.be/OMZOBskPA4c
Profile Image for Carmel Hanes.
Author 1 book127 followers
January 26, 2020
I worked with kids who were affiliated with gangs. I heard stories...of their exploits and those of others. The news is filled with stories about riots, uprisings, protests, violence between different factions. We still have a problem with racism and mindless hatred in this country (heck, the entire world). It's a huge problem, and has created an abundance of literature to reflect it.

This is one of those stories, focusing on two families and the cost of fear and vengeance. It could have been a relentlessly ugly tale that leaves one feeling depleted, hopeless and angry. But it wasn't.

Somehow, despite tackling the complicated dynamics involved in undeserved death, imprisonment, family estrangement, living with oppression, the hard work of carving a healthy life from unhealthy circumstances, and facing the reality of imperfect relationships, this novel embeds just enough hope and love to keep it from being a slog-fest through our cultural swamp.

The author does a decent job of representing viewpoints that conflict, grow from experiences, and collide with our better natures. She draws blurry line after blurry line around black and white concepts. There are no real heroes or villains, just a motley crew of fallible humans, bumbling their way across a landscape dotted with landmines. It was easy to relate to several of the characters, as they reached for some kind of rudder with which to steer their course. Sometimes there are no easy answers.

"Darryl and Dasha were angry, sure, but their anger was inherited, abstract and bearable. They could indulge it without getting burned."

"You know what happens to a girl like Ava, people start thinking she was a bad girl? She gets tossed in with the rest of them. The pile of black girls no one's ever heard of. It is a mass grave...."

Ultimately, this novel seems to be about repentance, forgiveness, grace, (or lack thereof) and how to exist in a world that seems determined to bury you, literally or figuratively. It's about how we see family (imperfect though they may be) and how we redefine ourselves in relation to them as our understanding of them grows, what we will do for them.

"She was, Shawn figured, the best person he knew, the most virtuous and giving, a selfless soul who'd anchored him in ruthless seas and saved him a dozen times over. She had suffered enough to make anyone mean, but she took the bitter roots of her heartache and made a healing salve for people she would never know."

This book represents all that is wrong with this world, and all that is right in it, too.

Profile Image for Lisa.
1,418 reviews535 followers
September 4, 2020
Your House Will Pay explores the reverberations in two families after a Black girl is killed by a Korean store owner. Cha faces complicated dynamics head-on in this eloquent, relevant novel. So much power is contained in just 299 pages.
Profile Image for David.
590 reviews124 followers
February 28, 2020
In this incendiary tale of racist rage, economic struggle, and societal injustice, Cha manages to (mostly) avoid reducing her characters to avatars or her plot to a simple moral object lesson. The complicated, irrational, sometimes contradictory nature of real grief and loss is allowed to make its messy way through the community. Not sure how far it will progress in the 2020 ToB, but it's a worthy shortlist selection.
Profile Image for Aditya.
269 reviews78 followers
December 11, 2020
Writing about race is not easy and Your House Will Pay feels the weight, often being muffled at points. The pressure of tiptoeing around volatile issues has Cha playing it safe. This is not a bad book but it seems like a middle class college educated take on racism. The main message seems to be - Yes racism is bad but the power of positivity triumphs. Too new age, too reductive for my liking.

A Korean shopkeeper shot an unarmed black young woman dead during the height of Rodney King riots. The setup is real, the story is completely fictional. This takes place 30 years after the event when old wounds reopen as an attempt is made on the shopkeeper's life who walked scot free on manslaughter charges.

The black family - Matthews are trying to rebuild, the Korean - Parks are living an upwardly mobile life. Cha is better at putting us into the headspace of the Korean family or maybe I related more to the Asian culture's first generation immigrant experience. It is interesting how none of the major black characters are racist, they are always wronged. The family bond in the Matthews clan seems to be much stronger than the one in Parks. Cha obviously did not want to risk hurting any particular sentiment. She could be harsh on the Koreans because of her ancestry but she didn't really feel comfortable doing that with the African American family.

This is more of a drama than a crime book. The mystery is the weakest part of the title, I knew the identity of the shooter pretty early, it is obvious. I did not mind that, but I would have preferred a bit more psychological complexity. To Cha's credit, she does not try to manipulate the readers, it also feels topical specially how toxic social media has gotten of late. It is easy to rate the message or the effort rather than the book as a whole which has some plotting issues.

Firstly a riot is almost started because Matthews family accuses the cops of arresting one of its members without sufficient proof. The police literally has a smoking gun tying him to the crime, why won't they release that info? Secondly one of the big confrontations between Matthews and Parks happen in a public space in front of hundreds of cameras. That is ridiculous, it screams cheap drama. Thirdly and the main one there are no villains on either side of the race divide. Young people are killed but Cha seems to chalk it down to a misunderstanding that can be solved after a therapy session or two. There is not enough hate which in my experience characterizes racism. The reader never gets any understanding of the psyche of the only character who seems completely racist - the shopkeeper who started it all.

All the major characters are trying to make the best of a bad situation here. I get what Cha is going for, most people are victims of situations or there is some good in everybody. But institutionalized racism is more pernicious than that. Though I am drawing from my experience with discrimination (mainly casteism & religious intolerance rather than racism) in a different society but it is probably the same everywhere. The writing is inconsistent. Occasionally moving, He was forever a black child who’d been publicly wronged, and so he was an altar for the well-meaning pilgrims, who wanted his grace in exchange for their patronage. But occasionally too corny like a social media post written for the express purpose of getting quick likes Her heart swelled with wretched humility and righteous, motivated passion. Characters trump plot here which is usually a good thing but the plot missteps are pretty major ones. Decide how well that works for you. Rating - 3/5.
Profile Image for Christina.
543 reviews191 followers
July 28, 2020
This book is a heartbreaking and sensitive work about race and class, incarceration and murder, and police and protests that could not be more timely. It is every bit as excellent as you’ve heard.

I do not want to say too much about the plot. I knew a little bit going in and was still surprised at many of the turns - but wish I didn’t know the initial setup.

This book does a great service to the current (and long-standing) racial and police strife by depicting so many of its characters in such a heartfelt way that it is hard to imagine any reader could do anything but love them, especially Shawn. This author puts words and heart and faces to many of the issues confronting us now in the Black Lives Matter movement. It is very hard to imagine any reader not coming away from this book with a greater understanding and feeling for the movement. If the book feels a bit slow at the beginning, it’s because you’re getting the time to know and feel deeply for all the characters.

And beyond the important themes that everyone should read, this book is really about two families and the love they have for their own (coupled with pride and misunderstanding of “others.”) It is incredibly moving on that level alone and made me cry. (I’m not a crier.)

You know this book is going to be devastating from the very beginning but the many ways in which it devastates the reader are surprising. And smart. At first I was unsure of how I felt about the ending, but after sitting with it for awhile, I realized it was perfect.

I hope many people will read this beautiful book. It’s a great example of literature that can do good and bring understanding - reading it is an incredibly intense and moving experience and your heart will bleed for some of these characters. I predict an Edgar award for this book. Read it.

Thanks to Harper Collins, NetGalley and Steph Cha for the ARC of this, one of my favorite books of the year.
Profile Image for Donna Davis.
1,745 reviews234 followers
December 28, 2019
The quality that distinguishes Cha from other top-tier mystery writers is her absolute fearlessness in using fiction to address ticklish political issues. Your House Will Pay is impressive. I read it free and early thanks to Net Galley and Harper Collins. I am a little sick at heart that I’m so late with my review, but this book is rightfully getting a lot of conversations started without me. It’s for sale now, and you should get it and read it.

Our two protagonists are Grace Park and Shawn Matthews. They don’t know each other, but their families intersected one critical day many years ago. The Parks are Korean immigrants, the owners of a small pharmacy. The Matthews family is African-American, and they have never stopped grieving the loss of sixteen-year-old Ava, who was shot and killed one evening by Grace’s mother in a moment of rage and panic. The other thing shared by Grace and Shawn is that both were quite young when it happened. Shawn was with his older sister when she was killed and has memories of what happened; Grace has been shielded from the event and knows nothing about it until the past opens itself up in a way that is shocking and very public.

The story alternates between the initial event, which happened in the 1990s, and today; it also alternates between the Park family and the Matthews’. The development of the characters—primarily Grace and Shawn, but also Shawn’s brother, Ray and a handful of other side characters—is stellar. Throughout the story I watch for the moment when the narrative will bend, when we will see which of these two scarred, bitter families is more in the right, or has the more valid grievance. It never happens. Cha plays it straight down the middle. Both families have been through hell; both have made serious mistakes, crimes against one another. And ultimately they share one more terrible attribute: both families have been callously under-served by the cops and local government, for which relatively poor, powerless, nonwhite families are the dead last priority.

Cha bases her story on a real event, and she explains this in the author’s notes at the end of the book.

As a reviewer, I am closer to this than many will be: my family is a blend of Caucasians, Asian immigrants, and African-Americans. I read multiple galleys at a time, shifting from one to another throughout the reading parts of my day, but it is this story that I thought about when I wasn’t reading anything.

The first book that I read by this author was from her detective series. When I saw that she had a galley up for review, I was initially disappointed that this wasn’t a Juniper Song mystery, but now that I have seen what Cha is doing and where she is going with it, I see that this had to be a stand-alone novel. There isn’t one thing about it that I would change. Highly recommended to those that love the genre and that cherish civil rights in the U.S.; a must-read.
Profile Image for Janelle Janson.
691 reviews420 followers
January 14, 2020
Thank you Ecco Books for my free copy.

Steph Cha’s YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY is a fictionalized story based on the 1991 tragic murder of Latasha Harlins. The crime took place during the time of Rodney King and the LA Riots where racial tensions were high. A convenience store owner named Soon Ja Du assumed 15-year-old Latasha was shoplifting orange juice, things escalated quickly, and when Latasha turned to leave, Soon Ja Du shot her in the back of the head. The store owner was convicted of voluntary manslaughter but served no jail time.

YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY is set in 2019, years after the crime occurred. Shawn Matthews is haunted by the murder of his sister, Ava, a young black teenager who was shot by Yvonne, a Korean convenience store owner. Yvonne’s daughter, Grace, was not born when the crime occurred and growing up was completely unaware of it. We follow these two families as they deal with tragedy, injustice, anger, and loss. Cha writes her characters in a very real way with raw emotion. This is not a fast paced book nor a thriller. It’s a story of the aftermath of a racially charged crime and how these two families survive it. Cha also shines a much needed spotlight on the relevance of such a crime today.

I finished this book several months ago and I cannot stop thinking about it.
Profile Image for Jerrie.
985 reviews127 followers
December 22, 2019
Really great book. Set in present day LA, but flashes back to the 1992 racially-motivated riots in south central LA, particularly the tensions between the Korean shop owners and their black customers. The author did a wonderful job of creating distinctive voices for the two main characters. Besides race relations, this book also explores guilt, revenge, justice, forgiveness, and family. The ending veered a little too dramatic for my tastes, but otherwise it was a really great read. 4.5⭐️ rounded up.
Profile Image for Ben Loory.
Author 24 books677 followers
July 10, 2019
A smart, powerful, fully-engaged book that never once blinks or backs down or takes an easy out, and then nails one of the best endings I've ever read.
Profile Image for Katie Long.
267 reviews56 followers
January 10, 2020
I love the Tournament of Books for introducing me to titles, like this one, that were not on my radar. The plot explores a racially motivated killing from the perspective of family members of both the victim and the killer and the ripple effect throughout their communities. This setup allows Cha to explore the ways in which perception of these events, that seem so easy to judge from the outside, change when someone you love is involved. Cha succeeds in making this a compelling novel, instead of merely an author on a soapbox, by giving her characters, and the tragic situation, nuance and humanity.
Profile Image for Eric.
396 reviews30 followers
November 24, 2019
Your House Will Pay is just not resonating with me at this point. I am about forty or so pages into it and it is just not grabbing me, so for the time being I am going to set it aside.

For one thing, I think novels with alternating viewpoints and stories told in flashbacks and flip-flopping chapters are hard to assemble and the way it is done in this novel is not working for me.

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