Steph Cha has a hell of a tightrope to walk with this one. A fictional retelling of the murder of Latasha Harlins, she breaks down the impact of it between both families impacted: the black family that mourned her and the Korean family that produced her killer. Writing black characters, specifically in a context such as this, is a tall task for a non-black writer.
But Cha is successful. She navigates this with a less-is-more approach, focusing on how grief and racial trauma impact both families respectively. She did a lot of research to make this book possible and it pays off well. Ava’s family is comprised of fully realized characters, Shawn in particular, who have to navigate through white supremacy and the requisite grief of losing their own to racial violence.
Grace’s family is one where I feel like Cha has a dueling conscience as someone who is both Korean-American and educated on anti-blackness. Grace herself loves her family and struggles to process all that is happening when the big reveal comes about her mother. Her sister Miriam is the kind of well-intentioned but often obnoxious antiracist type, someone who sees black people broadly as causes more than humans. The dynamic between the two sisters and their mother, along with the family their mother harmed, plays out well over the book.
The ending is really something. I had a sense of who did what but I wasn’t sure how Cha was going to bring it home and it really stuck with me, especially in this moment.
I remember reading and enjoying Steph Cha’s first book Follow Her home but I didn’t think it would lead to her writing something like this. To see her progress as a writer to pen one of the best thing I read all year is special.