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Joanna Ho's THE SILENCE THAT BINDS US - Growing and Learning After Loss

Photograph of Joanna Ho's The Silence that Binds Us

Joanna Ho's The Silence that Binds Us ( | is a brilliant and complex young adult novel that takes on so many vital social issues with nuance and compassion.

Our protagonist, Maybelline Chen, has so much to navigate as she faces not only grief from losing her beloved older brother Danny but also racist community backlash against her family in the wake of Danny's death.

May's amazing friends lift her up and support her as she finds her words to stand up for her family, but her parents' reaction is to stay quiet and to ignore the cruelty instead of drawing attention. May does not want to hurt her family, but she cannot abide the bitter accusations unfairly hurled against her family.

“Hearts and minds are changed through stories.”

There's so much to unpack here. School and societal pressures, stereotyping, white privilege, the larger historical context of present-day dynamics, mental health, and what activism can look like are just a few of the many issues that Ho takes on in this powerful book. And despite being so heavy on social issues, the characters at the core of this novel are lovingly crafted and beautifully flawed. I shed a lot of tears while reading this one because we feel alongside the characters.

What works so well in this novel is the way that we watch Maybelline work through her own limited perspective to grow into a more courageous, more informed, more action-oriented person who finds her voice.

I love seeing May navigate her own fear and doubt because those are real, complex feelings that inevitably come up when we are trying to bring about change, especially when the steps toward change involve risks for ourselves and our families. May shows us that we do not have to be perfect to make a difference.

“We will never have a better world until all our stories are told. We will never have a better world until all our histories are known. We will never have a better world until all our voices are heard.”

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