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.