The Silence That Binds Us by Joanna Ho


The Silence That Binds Us by Joanna Ho. HarperTeen, 2022. 9780063059344

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5+

Format: Hardcover

Genre:  Realistic fiction

What did you like about the book? May is just trying to get by, going with the flow and getting good grades. But good grades aren’t enough for her Ma, who always criticizes her daughter. May doesn’t need to try hard though, because her older brother Danny is the superstar of the house, with excellent grades, basketball fame, and an acceptance letter into Princeton. So it comes as an utter devastating shock when Danny commits suicide. May’s parents are left in ruins, and May can’t even remember how to function without her older brother. 

Months pass and the school year starts again. Though her best-friend Tiya, and Danny’s best friend Marc, do their best to support her, May can barely focus on what’s important anymore. Her life takes a frustrating turn when a school mental health assembly turns into parents sending racist accusations toward May’s family, saying they were the ones who pushed Danny to death, and that Asian parents are the cause of stress, anxiety, and depression in their kids. May, angry to the core, responds the best way she can: Writing. She posts her response in a newsletter, and suddenly she is getting her community’s attention, almost too much of it. Her parents tell her to stop writing, keep her head down, and let the whole thing pass, but something about that doesn’t sit right with her. Does May keep her head down and let people say these horrible things about her brother, or does she fight against them, even if the consequences of speaking out will affect her whole family?

The Silence That Binds Us is a heart-wrenching story about a Chinese teenager who has lost her brother to suicide and has to deal with Asian racism. The theme of the book is seeing who gets to tell Danny’s story and who doesn’t, something that everyone affected by racism has dealt with. All the characters – from May’s Chinese Ma and Yam (father), to her Black friends Tiya and Marc (who are also dealing with racism), to other Asian-American students – are all very well-written and nuanced, adding a unique element or message to the narrative, as they all represent how different minorities react to direct racist threats and their consequences. This is a very sad book, and readers will cry (a lot), but it tells a fantastic and well-thought-out story that balances the topics of suicide and depression, fighting against racism through writing and peaceful protests, minorities standing up for each other, and the love between a daughter and her parents. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? Absolutely not

To whom would you recommend this book? I would honestly recommend it to any student who doesn’t mind reading sad but also important topics. There’s no book quite like it.  

Who should buy this book? High schools and public libraries 

Where would you shelve it? Teen Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Laila Carter, Cheltenham Township Library System, Elkins Park, PA

Date of review: December 4, 2022

This entry was posted in *Book Review, *Starred Review, *Young Adult, Asian Americans, Author, Family, Joanna Ho, Racism, Suicide and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.