64 pages 2 hours read

Steph Cha

Your House Will Pay

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2019

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Summary and Study Guide


Your House Will Pay is a 2019 novel by Steph Cha. Published by Ecco, it was Cha’s fourth novel and the first not to feature private detective Juniper Song, protagonist of Follow Her Home (2013), Beware Beware (2014), and Dead Soon Enough (2015). In Your House Will Pay, Cha uses the crime fiction genre to engage more directly with Los Angeles’s history of racial injustice. A Korean American author native to the area, Cha draws inspiration from the 1991 murder of Latasha Harlins by Soon Ja Du, an event that contributed to the 1992 Los Angeles uprising and decades of tension between Korean and African Americans. The novel follows two families in 2019, one Korean and one Black, still dealing with the aftermath of a similar event 28 years earlier. Your House Will Pay won the California Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

This guide is based on the 2020 Ecco paperback edition.

Content Warning: Your House Will Pay deals with racism and racially motivated violence, which is discussed in detail in this guide.

Plot Summary

In 1991, a Korean woman named Jung-Ja Han shoots an unarmed Black teenager named Ava Matthews after a confrontation at her liquor store in South Los Angeles. When Jung-Ja Han is given no jail time for the murder, the name “Ava Matthews” becomes a symbol for racial injustice in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Ava’s younger brother Shawn, who witnessed her death, struggles with anger during his adolescence. Along with his cousin Ray Holloway, Shawn joins the Baring Cross Crips and ends up spending time in jail. In 2019, Shawn lives in Palmdale. Having cut ties with the Baring Cross crew, he has been working for a moving company and lives with his girlfriend Jazz and her daughter Monique. He also helps care for Ray’s two children, Dasha and Darryl, along with Ray’s wife Nisha and mother Sheila. At the start of the novel, Ray is released from prison after 10 years, and the family begins to feel whole again.

In 2019, Grace Park lives at home in the San Fernando Valley with her mother Yvonne and father Paul. At 27 years old, she has lived a sheltered life. She works with her parents at the Woori Pharmacy in Northridge, and her mother still cooks her meals. At the start of the novel, Grace is unaware that her mother was once the Jung-Ja Han who killed Ava Matthews because Yvonne changed her name and moved to the Valley after 1991. Grace’s older sister Miriam does know, and she has not spoken to her parents in two years. One night, Grace meets up with Miriam in downtown Los Angeles at a memorial for Alfonso Curiel, a young Black man who was killed by police despite being unarmed and in his own backyard. The incident is the latest in a series of highly publicized and unjust murders of Black individuals by police, fueling the nascent Black Lives Matter movement. For the first time in her life, Grace feels outrage at the systemic racism of the United States justice system.

Even before Ray gets out of prison, his son Darryl had been skipping school. He has been dealing drugs for a Baring Cross crew in Palmdale. One day, while driving Ray’s car, he finds Ray’s gun. Having once seen a letter from Miriam to his family revealing where Yvonne works, Darryl investigates Woori Pharmacy. Full of anger inherited from his family history and amped up by the rhetoric of his friends in the Baring Cross crew, Darryl uses the gun to shoot Jung-Ja Han. He then hides the gun at his house, which later gets discovered by the police.

One day after work, Grace witnesses her mother become the victim of a drive-by shooting. As Yvonne recovers in the hospital, Miriam stays with the family in Granada Hills and finally tells Grace about Yvonne’s secret past. Grace struggles to reconcile the news and her newfound awareness of racial injustice with her love for Yvonne and concern for her wellbeing. At the same time, thousands of people on social media learn about Jung-Ja Han’s identity, and Grace attracts media attention. When ambushed by an abusive reporter while still grieving, Grace rants in defense of her mother. The rant, which includes anti-Black sentiments, goes viral. Miriam bonds with her sister over the difficulty of defending the terrible acts of loved ones.

The author of Ava’s biography, Jules Searcey, is writing a new book on anti-Blackness in California, and to Shawn’s chagrin, Ava’s Aunt Sheila seizes the opportunity to remind people about her niece. Then, the news that Jung-Ja Han was shot drudges up even more traumatic memories for Shawn. That night, Ray shows up at Shawn’s home and they spend the night drinking beer. It ends up being the last time the two cousins spend time together because soon, a Detective Neil Maxwell begins asking questions, and Ray is arrested for the shooting of Jung-Ja Han a couple days later.

Despite having an alibi, Ray confesses to the shooting of Jung-Ja Han. After hearing the news, Darryl takes Ray’s car and runs away. Shawn suspects that it was Darryl, not Ray, who shot Jung-Ja Han. His suspicions are confirmed after he tracks Darryl and discovers that he has been dealing drugs for a Baring Cross crew in Palmdale. He confronts Darryl in a park in the middle of the night and convinces him to come home. Shawn tells Darryl to let his father take the fall for him. Shawn visits Ray in jail and lets him know that he knows, and that he will always take care of Ray’s family.

Yvonne wakes up from a coma, and the Park family slowly starts to heal. Miriam and her mother reconcile, but Grace is still struggling with her mother’s lack of remorse. When pressed, Yvonne stills claims her shooting of Ava was self-defense. Meanwhile, Detective Maxwell continues to ask questions about the shooting. Grace discovers that her father has been hiding security footage that reveals it was not Ray but Darryl who shot Yvonne. Grace reaches out to Ray’s lawyer through Jules Searcey, and it looks like she will help Ray fight the charge. Then, suddenly, Yvonne’s wound festers, and she dies, changing Darryl’s shooting to murder.

While at her mother’s funeral, Grace learns that Ray has been indicted for the murder of Jung-Ja Han. She attends a protest the next day with Miriam, and there, they confront Shawn and Darryl while the protest builds to violence. Grace is filled with anger and hatred toward Darryl for killing their mother—but once she faces Darryl, everyone’s emotions become more complicated. Darryl is repentant, and Grace seems like she might be able to forgive him. Shawn is also dealing with anger again, triggered by the protesters. But during the chaos, as things start to catch fire and protestors begin harassing Grace and Miriam, Shawn stands up for them. As the city burns around them, they recognize that Los Angeles will always be on the brink of eruption unless people figure out how to live with each other.