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Excerpt from Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Your House Will Pay

by Steph Cha

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha X
Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha
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    Oct 2019, 320 pages

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Jamie Chornoby
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Your House Will Pay

Ava was buried in the Paradise Memorial Park in Santa Fe Springs, though where exactly, no one was sure anymore. Four years after her funeral, the cemetery closed shop when its owners got caught reselling burial plots, stacking multiple bodies into single graves, most of the dead poor and black, with poor black families who were easy to ignore. They dug up corpses and coffins, dumped them in piles of dirt and remains to get scattered again, sharing the ground with the bones of strangers. Ava didn't have a gravestone anymore—where her grave used to be, there was a gravestone for someone named Cornelius Henderson, a World War II vet, dead since 1959. The bodies had been piled and shuffled, and there was no way to know if Ava was anywhere near where they laid her down.

It had been years since Shawn last came here. Aunt Sheila hated the place. When she found out what happened, she lost sleep for weeks, this last insult bringing back all the ones that had come before. There were memorials for Ava over the years, plenty of them, but none of them took place at the cemetery. They were always at church or, on the bigger anniversaries, when Aunt Sheila could get a crowd together, at the intersection of Ninety-First and Figueroa, outside the Numero Uno Market, built over the remains of the place where Ava died.

It had taken him more than an hour to make the drive from Northridge, stopping at a plant shop along the way. The park was quiet and neglected; the grass was brown and the weeds were tall. It pained him that this was where his sister was buried, that she couldn't have a neat grave, her name on a little stone on a watered lawn. That seemed like so little to ask, yet even that was denied her, stolen from her.

What she had instead was a share in a mass burial site, marked by a big granite tombstone engraved with the words:

Whomever Forever Wherever Rest In Peace

This stone, at least, was in better shape than most of the others. It looked like it got cleaned once in a while, despite the mildew and bird shit; there were even a few remembrances at its base: an American flag, a cluster of plastic roses. Shawn leaned a tiny potted succulent against the stone and closed his eyes.

When he was little—between one and three years old, they never did quite nail it down—Ava made him high-five a cactus. She set it up with a series of high fives that had him chasing her hand like a cat chases a light. Up high, down low, too slow! For her finale, she extended her hand, palm out flat, over a potted cactus, and when he slammed down as fast and eager as he could, she whisked her hand away. Ava laughed until he started bawling; then she cried and confessed to their mother, who spanked her for the prank. This was his first memory, the spike of the cactus the jolt that brought him online.

He remembered the way he abhorred and adored her, the vicious way they fought, holding nothing back, trying every time to break each other's hearts, then making up without effort, the wounds they gave each other easily forgotten. She used to sucker him out of the best trading cards, the best Halloween candy; once, he called her an asshole, and she used that to blackmail him into servitude for what felt like several years. Yet he worshipped her. The first time she went on a sleepover, he sat in front of her picture and cried.

When she was murdered, their relationship was already changing, morphing into something less volatile, more affectionate, a preview of the stable, nurturing companionship they would provide each other into adulthood. And sometimes he missed this as much as he missed her, the broken promise of a lifelong friendship with the person who knew him better than anyone. This is what Jung-Ja Han took away from him: an ordinary girl who meant the world to him.

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From Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha. Copyright © 2019 by Steph Cha. Reprinted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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