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YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY
by Steph Cha
Ecco, October 2019
320 pages
$26.99
ISBN: 0062868853


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Shawn Matthews grew up mourning the death of his big sister Ava, shot dead by a Korean woman working in a corner shop in South Central Los Angeles, around the same time as the police beating of a black man was caught on tape and the city caught fire. Years later, after wrenching himself free from gangs and the legal system, he has a girlfriend, a job, and a role helping his incarcerated cousin's family out. It's a hard life, but he clings to the hope he can build a shell of peace around his wounded family.

Grace Park grew up in a Korean family outside Los Angeles, working long hours in the family drug store after her sister Miriam became estranged from the family for reasons nobody explains. She's dutiful, but wonders if life will ever hold much promise beyond a strip mall where Koreans do their shopping and there's always another customer to tend to.

Though these families live in different worlds, they have both built precarious lives in the suburbs. It's not until a shocking crime reignites racial tension Grace and Shawn see their paths cross.

This extraordinary standalone novel by the author of the Juniper Song private investigator series vaults the author to a whole new level. It is crime fiction there is a crime, and it's not clear who's responsible but the real question is how these characters will live with the complex reality of racism and the long shadow it casts. In the 1990s a young girl died at the hands of an immigrant shopkeeper, and the woman was able to escape prison and the glare of the press by vanishing. In 2019 a Korean immigrant is murdered and a black man is the prime suspect. The fires of 1992, it seems, are still smoldering and at any minute will burst into flames.

Cha has imagined herself thoroughly into the lives of two families from different backgrounds, living near each other yet totally apart. The stories alternate, primarily from the point of view of two young people doing their best to support their families, doing all the right things without ever getting a break, each forced to wonder whether it's all worth it when the odds are stacked against them. Their lives weave around one another, straining in different directions. The suspense isn't so much around who committed a murder as how these characters, wrenched by violence, will figure out how to live with injustice. In a world as divided by racism as when Rodney King asked why we can't all just get along, Cha makes us yearn for a happy ending even as we wonder how any of us will figure out what comes next.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, October 2019

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