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Reviews of The Silence that Binds Us by Joanna Ho

The Silence that Binds Us

by Joanna Ho

The Silence that Binds Us by Joanna Ho X
The Silence that Binds Us by Joanna Ho
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2022, 448 pages

    Paperback:
    Dec 2023, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
David Bahia
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About this Book

Book Summary

Joanna Ho, New York Times bestselling author of Eyes That Kiss in the Corners, has written an exquisite, heart-rending debut young adult novel that will inspire all to speak truth to power.

Maybelline Chen isn't the Chinese Taiwanese American daughter her mother expects her to be. May prefers hoodies over dresses and wants to become a writer. When asked, her mom can't come up with one specific reason for why she's proud of her only daughter. May's beloved brother, Danny, on the other hand, has just been admitted to Princeton. But Danny secretly struggles with depression, and when he dies by suicide, May's world is shattered.

In the aftermath, racist accusations are hurled against May's parents for putting too much "pressure" on him. May's father tells her to keep her head down. Instead, May challenges these ugly stereotypes through her writing. Yet the consequences of speaking out run much deeper than anyone could foresee. Who gets to tell our stories, and who gets silenced? It's up to May to take back the narrative.

Joanna Ho masterfully explores timely themes of mental health, racism, and classism.

1

My mom has her own personal arsenal of silence, and she wields it like the Force, bending me to her will. Her silence can be a flashing yellow light, warning me to proceed with caution, or a magnifying glass she uses to study me like I'm some kind of alien species. Most often, her silence is a hippo, pregnant with disappointment. She can brandish that hippo at me while gracefully hosting a dinner party, chatting up guests, and offering them tea.

Which is what she did on the night Danny died.

Just as the Wus arrived for dinner, Danny bounded down the stairs with all the grace of a six-foot water buffalo in basketball shorts, bellowing, "May-May! Have you seen my Star Wars socks?" He froze when he saw the Wus, then burst out laughing. "Everyone loves Star Wars, right?" Then he whipped around and ran back up to his room. He was extra scatterbrained his last few months, which was a little weird.

My mom emerged from the kitchen, perfectly pressed, with pearls of steam glistening in ...

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Reviews

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The depiction of May's normally steadfast mother temporarily succumbing to overwhelming depression is especially impactful, as it shows how May is forced to acknowledge the chilling reality that her parents are only human and cannot shield her from the injustices of an outside world where she and her family are but a small minority. When May resolves to publicly fight back against Nate's dangerous rhetoric, she must do so bearing responsibility for the consequences. Her exploration soon expands to dovetail with the identities of Tiya and Marc, who recount their own experiences as the children of Haitian immigrants growing up around prejudice in America. When May meets their fellow members in the Black Student Union at school, she is exposed to an ever-diverse and sometimes conflicting array of personal narratives, some of which are sympathetic to the struggles of the Asian community and others that are not. The dialogues she holds with certain members are purposefully uncomfortable and expose mutually unresolved disagreements, which historic activists like Yuri Kochiyama — one BSU student points out — have striven in the past to overcome in both communities...continued

Full Review (1003 words)

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(Reviewed by David Bahia).

Media Reviews

BookPage
Bestselling picture book author Ho's first YA novel is a deeply felt portrayal of a family shattered by tragedy and a thoughtful depiction of how injustice plays people against one another—and themselves—in order to perpetuate itself. In the end, The Silence That Binds Us finds its way through heartbreak to hard-won hopefulness and healing.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The array of issues in this story is sensitively and beautifully handled, and May is an appealing character who moves through a complicated range of realistic emotions, including anger, fear, guilt, and jealousy. A grieving teen fights Asian hate by finding her voice in this complex, timely story.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A grieving Chinese American teen combats the model minority myth and its harm in Ho's potent YA debut...With a layered, sensitive voice, May confronts her parents' silence surrounding Danny's depression and their complacency around maintaining the status quo. Using complex characterizations and intense dialogue, Ho's weighty novel delves into themes of racism, classism, loss, and healing.

Booklist
Inspired by the recent rise in hate crimes against AAPI…Ho's story of inclusion, diversity, and social action rings true. Maybelline is a multifaceted narrator whose drive to right wrongs and stand up to injustice deserves applause. Ho illuminates both activism and mental health in marginalized communities, showing that even a bright, young achiever can experience depression without anyone knowing.

School Library Journal
A powerful, hopeful YA debut…May's journey through personal and familial grief is poignant and questions of power and privilege are explored with nuance that will spark conversation among teen readers

Author Blurb Abigail Hing Wen, New York Times bestselling author of Loveboat, Taipei
Zinger after zinger, Joanna pierces us with the truth we can't ignore even as she cocoons us in love. Just like May, she's taking back the narrative with her powerful pen.

Author Blurb Nic Stone, New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin
The Silence That Binds Us is a propulsive reminder that race-based discrimination takes a multitude of forms, all of them insidious and traumatic. I adored this ornately carved window into the core of shared humanity. A fascinating exploration of what happens when deeply rooted cultural norms collide with privilege-centered notions of 'fairness.' Read and re-read. Then read it again.

Author Blurb Stacey Lee, New York Times bestselling author of The Downstairs Girl
A held-breath of a novel that finds courage amidst brokenness, and holds a candle to the dark.

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Beyond the Book

The Freedom Swimmers

May Chen, the main character in Joanna Ho's The Silence That Binds Us, explores her identity through her family heritage, including the experiences of her paternal grandmother, who arrived in Hong Kong as a young refugee from mainland China. Faced with formidable hardships during the Cultural Revolution, she left everything behind and swam across four miles of shark-infested waters in the dead of night. While itself fictional, this description reflects the historical reality of about one million Chinese refugees who risked their lives to make similar crossings into Hong Kong between the 1950s and 1980s.

Dapeng Bay (aka "Mirs Bay"), where May's grandmother crossed, was one of three established escape routes to Hong Kong. The alternatives ...

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Read-Alikes

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