Tag Archives: Chinese Taiwanese American

The Silence that Binds Us – Joanna Ho

Standard

Harper Collins Australia

October 2022

  • ISBN: 9780063059344
  • ISBN 10: 0063059347
  • Imprint: HarperCollins US
  • List Price: 34.99 AUD

Many of us fell in love with Joanna Ho’s exquisite writing with Eyes That Kiss in the Corners and Eyes That Speak to the Stars. Now it becomes apparent that her talent is not confined to lyrical picture books. This, her first YA novel, is searingly beautiful, poignant and powerful. Exploring themes of mental health, racism and class distinctions. Maybelline Chen is an American Chinese Taiwanese girl who goes against the norm for her background. Her dress, appearance and interests completely confound her traditional mother who seems to find no pride or joy in her only daughter. May’s older brother, Danny, however can do no wrong it appears. Until, that is, Danny freshly accepted to Princeton, stands in the path of an oncoming train, unable to withstand his depression any longer.

In the shockwaves that follow, which engulf the entire community, May and her parents struggle to regain any kind of equilibrium, and those of us who have experienced this deep and unexpected grief will relate to their brokenness. More than that, there are voices raised against May’s parents specifically, but all Asian families in general about the perceived academic pressure put upon their offspring. Those who can see the truth know it is not just Asian parents in this community heaping the expectations on the heads of their young people, and along with this racist attitude, is the realisation that students of colour are facing discrimination of a different kind.

Ignoring her parents’ advice to ‘keep her head down’ May fights back to take charge of her own ‘narrative’ through her writing and galvanises other students into action at the same time.This is a story of courage and perseverance, and the often difficult path to truth telling in the face of sometimes real intimidation. I found it utterly captivating and powerful, and read it with real urgency to know the outcome. Ho’s writing is just sensational. She captures the voice of her various characters beautifully and explores these difficult issues with subtlety and sensitivity.

I highly recommend it to you for your mature readers. While lower secondary kiddos could manage it, I think it better suited to your mid-to-upper readers as it can be quite confronting at times. I feel it will rouse their righteous indignation and would give rise to some deep discussions around the themes.

*This is my ‘give away’ title for February so if you would like to win it, comment on the post and your name will be in the lucky draw at the end of the month* (Australian readers only, sorry)