On Monday, September 27, the Upper School welcomed author Steph Cha via Zoom to discuss her book, Your House Will Pay, which was chosen as the junior year summer reading book. The junior class, as well as faculty and staff members, took part in this webinar-style question and answer session.
Ms. Cha is the author of multiple crime novels, including the Juniper Song crime trilogy (Dead Soon Enough, Beware Beware, and Follow Her Home) and Your House Will Pay, the latter of which won the California Book Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Your House Will Pay follows two families--one Korean-American, one African-American--in tense Los Angeles in the wake of a police shooting of a black teenager. The novel grapples with loss, violence, racism, victimization, the role of witness, and hope.
Upper School English Teacher Cristina Baptista chose Your House Will Pay as the junior year summer reading book. “I selected Steph Cha's Your House Will Pay (2019) because it showcases literature as actively-engaged in a textured, real-life world. In other words, it makes a story of two diverse families at war with their consciences and each other in a way that feels now, present, ever-evolving,” she explained.
Director of Library and Information Services Angela Carstensen effectively sorted the logistics of virtually bringing Ms. Cha to campus. “From our first email exchange, she was easy to work with and enthusiastic about speaking to a high school audience,” she said.
After introducing herself and briefly explaining her process for writing Your House Will Pay, Ms. Cha opened the floor to questions from the students. Many illuminating questions were asked, including what part of the book was most challenging for her to write; what her thoughts were on having empathy for unsympathetic characters; and how she went about researching her novels, among other things. Students, staff, and faculty alike enjoyed the Q&A portion of the afternoon and took away much for the overall discussion.
“One thing that I took away from the talk was the immense ways in which the world we live in and the events happening in it influence an author's writing, in addition to their own experiences,” Kristin Morrow, a junior that had an opportunity to ask Ms. Cha a question, commented. “I also really resonated with the main takeaway from the novel that Steph Cha wanted us to have, saying ‘The political and the personal are not separate.’”
“It was enlightening on several fronts, from how long it took the author to write this book, which parts were most challenging, to the intersection of the personal and political in this work, and the ways Cha's own identity and experiences influence her fiction,” Ms. Carstensen added.
“I appreciate how the school is allowing students to read from a more modern perspective; most of the books we read are written by white males, so reading a book about racism from a female Asian-American author was eye-opening and enthralling,” Junior Jhonni Dixon said.
“It was such an honor to listen and engage with the great mind behind Your House Will Pay. During our time together, I was most impressed by how Steph Cha presented herself so confidently and spoke her mind without hesitation, perfectly modeling the strong and self-assured woman that my classmates and I strive to become,” Nadia Borja, another 11th grade student, commented.
“It is essential for students to recognize literature as both a historical record and an ever-moving mirror of the world,” Dr. Baptista said. “Novels like Cha's speak to a moment, but they speak to all moments. They recognize trends in big issues like racism, violence, media surveillance, and othering. But they also find the familial and intimate within this larger scope. That is who and what we are--individuals with personal lives existing in a larger, political landscape.
Literature is for them; it is for all of us. It reminds us that it is okay to dismantle and rethink, to destroy and regrow our perceptions as we move towards greater empathy.”
Ms. Cha’s talk tied in directly to the work being done with the Living Our Mission’s One Heart committee. The mission of this committee is to intentionally build and strengthen a more inclusive and diverse environment in which all students, faculty, and staff feel valued, respected, and connected to one another so that each can do his/her best work, share his/her ideas and perspectives, and have a consistent experience of belonging. Supporting events like Ms. Cha’s author talk is crucial to the overall wellbeing and culture of our community.
In November, parents and alumnae will be invited to participate in a book club discussion of Your House Will Pay. “The discussions will be moderated by members of the junior class and will delve into the multi-faceted themes of the novel, including the ways in which race and class intersect in our world,” explained Director of Community Service Kerry Bader. The book club will take place on November 17, both in-person at 2:00pm and online at 7:00pm.