A powerful and taut novel about racial tensions in Los Angeles, 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. But Grace Park and Shawn Matthews have their own problems. Grace is sheltered and largely oblivious, living in the Valley with her Korean-immigrant parents, working long hours at the family pharmacy. She’s distraught that her sister hasn’t spoken to their mother in two years, for reasons beyond Grace’s understanding. Shawn has already had enough of politics and protest after an act of violence shattered his family years ago. He just wants to be left alone to enjoy his quiet life in Palmdale.
But when another shocking crime hits LA, both the Park and Matthews families are forced to face down their history while navigating the tumult of a city on the brink of more violence.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Violence; Racial slur
Booklist starred (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
When Grace Park’s mother, Jung-Ja Han, is targeted in a drive-by shooting, Grace discovers the truth about her family’s pivotal role in the 1992 L.A. riots. Amid growing tension between South Central’s Asian shop owners and their African American customers, Grace’s mother shot and killed Ava Matthews, a teenage girl Grace had accused of shoplifting and assault, despite the later discovery of only two dollars clutched in Ava’s lifeless hand. Jung-Ja’s light sentence and the Rodney King trial ignited rioting. Fleeing backlash, Jung-Ja changed her name to Yvonne Park and hid in the suburbs. Shawn, Ava’s younger brother, has rebuilt his life after emerging from prison and leaving his fellow Crips gang members behind. Shawn’s cousin Ray has finally been released from prison, too, and Shawn is optimistic about Ray’s reunion with his community-activist mother, his wife, and the teenage twins Shawn has helped raise during Ray’s absence. But the past won’t go away, and Shawn and Ray face police scrutiny for Jung-Ja’s shooting. In addition, Ray has been keeping secrets. As Grace and Shawn desperately try to hold their families together, community outrage over another teen’s shooting places them—and Ava’s tragic death—back in the media spotlight. A gripping, thoughtful portrayal of family loyalty, hard-won redemption, and the destructive force of racial injustice. Cha, author of the Juniper Song PI series, offers a strong contender for the summer’s blockbuster read.
Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2019)
A real-life racial incident is transfigured into a riveting thriller about two families’ heartbreaking struggles to confront and transcend rage and loss. It is the late summer of 2019, but no matter how many years have passed, Shawn Matthews, a black ex-convict now working for a Los Angeles moving company, is burdened by memories of the early spring of 1991, when his teenage sister Ava was shot to death by a Korean woman who mistakenly believed she was stealing from her convenience store. The shooting and the resulting trial—in which the woman was convicted and received no jail time, after which she relocated to another part of LA—fed into racial tensions already festering back then from the Rodney King trial. And the city’s reactions to a present-day shooting death of an unarmed black teen by a police officer indicate that those racial animosities remain close to the boiling point. In the midst of the mounting furor, Grace Park, a young Korean woman, is shaken from her placid good nature by the sight of her mother being wounded in a drive-by shooting. “What if she is being punished?” her sister Miriam says, revealing a shocking fact about their mother’s past that Grace hadn’t known. An LAPD detective asks Shawn if he has an alibi for the drive-by (which he does). Nonetheless, the most recent shooting upends his fragile sense of security, and he starts to wonder where his cousin, Ray, himself just released from prison, was when Grace’s mother was shot. Cha, author of the Juniper Song series of detective novels (Dead Soon Enough, 2015, etc.), brings what she knows about crafting noir-ish mysteries into this fictionalized treatment of the 1991 Latasha Harlins murder, blending a shrewd knowledge of cutting-edge media and its disruptive impact with a warm, astute sensitivity toward characters of diverse cultures weighed down by converging traumas. Cha’s storytelling shows how fiction can delicately extract deeper revelations from daily headlines.
About the Author
Steph Cha is the author of Your House Will Pay and the Juniper Song crime trilogy. She’s an editor and critic whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. A native of the San Fernando Valley, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two basset hounds.
Her website is stephcha.com
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