Ho, Joanna

The Silence that Binds Us

(2) YA This sensitive novel does an impressive balancing act, examining mental illness and its stigma among Asian Americans while weaving in themes of racism and grief. San Francisco area teen Maybelline Chen's world is shattered when her beloved older brother, Danny, dies by suicide weeks before high-school graduation. Compounding the tragedy, a white classmate's rich venture capitalist father publicly blames Danny's death and other recent teen suicides on academic pressure from Asian "tiger moms and dads." Tension builds when Maybelline, an aspiring writer, pushes back through poetry and by organizing a school-wide protest--activities that jeopardize her mother's job. Ho admirably captures Maybelline's pain and sorrow as she deals with so many conflicting emotions. At the same time, she highlights the protagonist's naiveté and myopia when she doesn't support her Black best friend at a police brutality protest and is forced to evaluate her own biases and limited understanding of anti-Black racism. The novel runs a bit long, and the plot raises several minor logic questions. However, in picture-book author Ho's (Eyes That Kiss in the Corners; Playing at the Border, rev. 9/21) debut young adult novel, the overarching messages--working through issues via conversations, listening with empathy, and seeking help--ring loud and clear.


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