“Troublemaker”: A New Book by John Cho

Posted by on May 4, 2022 in People and Culture, Top Stories

Difficult times can sometimes lead to important progress. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a rise in anti-Asian American racism and hate crimes. Asian Americans were wrongfully blamed by some for the disease’s introduction in the United States. John Cho–an Asian American actor best known for his roles in films such as Better Luck Tomorrow and Harold and Kumar–used this division as inspiration to write a book for middle school students. Cho’s story takes place during the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising.  

What Was the L.A. Uprising? 

On March 3, 1991, an African American man named Rodney King was beaten by four Los Angeles police officers after King was stopped following a high-speed chase. King suffered skull fractures, permanent brain damage, and other injuries. The police officers’ actions were videotaped by news helicopters and the event received national attention. The location of the trial was moved from Los Angeles to the majority white suburb of Ventura County because of excessive media coverage. On April 29, 1992, the four officers were acquitted by a majority-white jury. Protests occurred across Los Angeles for five days after the verdict was announced. Some of these protests resulted in physical attacks and property damage. Much of the city was eventually put under a curfew and bus service suspended as police tried to control the crowds and end the violence. On May 2, 1992, thousands of federal troops and U.S. Marines were deployed to manage the situation. Things calmed down by May 4, but the violence and destruction resulted in more than fifty deaths, thousands of arrests, and millions of dollars of damage in South Los Angeles. 

Real Life and Creating Art 

John Cho is 49 and would have been a teenager when the uprising happened. He realized that he wanted to write a book to help young people make sense of growing up during turbulent world events. His novel Troublemaker tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy named Jordan who lives in Los Angeles in 1992 and is the son of Korean immigrants. The book is aimed at middle-school audiences, Cho said, because this is the age when young people start to form their sense of identity. In the book, Jordan feels torn between his own rebellious nature, and the more traditional values of his parents. 

Cho was born in South Korea and came to the United States as a young boy. He personally experienced anti-immigrant sentiment and stereotypes about Asian people as he was growing up. He sometimes felt left out and like he did not belong. Drawing on those feelings helped him as he wrote the book. Cho has two children himself now, which gives him a better understanding of his own parents and what they went through.  

Cho says that Troublemaker is a story of two young boys trying to navigate Los Angeles on their own at night during a violent moment in the city’s history. But he hopes that the book will also help open the door for important discussions about racism, the complexities of the immigrant experience, and the tension between generations. 

Dig Deeper Because of the 30-year anniversary of the L.A. Uprising, an L.A.-based organization called FACE (Faith and Community Empowerment) is working to turn it into an opportunity for impacted communities to come together and heal. Use Internet resources to find out more about this organization and project. Write a short paragraph about what you learn in your research.