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.
I read that powerful book in one day, which is a rare occurrence for me these days.
I was lucky to get sent an Advanced Reading Copy by @harper360YA and @harpercollins and I am so grateful because that work rocked my world and made me cry so hard!
If I had to make an analogy, I would say that The Silence that Binds Us felt like “The Hate U Give”, “A Very Large Expanse of Sea” and “With the Fire on High” all rolled into one book.
The Hate U Give because racism is one of the main if not the main focus of the book paired up with having the courage to talk.
After May’s brother died by suicide and a “rich powerful white guy” Nate McIntyre putting the blame on May’s parent for their son’s death, May is…enraged.
That Silicon Valley mogul is basically blaming the Asian parents for the wave of teen suicide their community has experienced.
Not only is that family going through an awful time but to add salt to injury, Nat McIntyre is accusing May’s parents to be responsible for their son’s death!
That will have May retaliate in the Sequoya Weekly because her words are swords. And she wants people to know the truth about Danny, about her family and their story. #TakeBacktheNarrative
But pretty quickly, things will escalate and it will really put May on the spot and have her decide what is right: talking and taking back the narrative for all POC communities or staying silent and protecting her family?
A Very Large Expanse of Sea because of the stigma put on a single community. It’s easier to put the finger at someone than look into the mirror.
Also all the stories about May’s grandparents, what they had to go through, how they escaped their countries to go live in the US in the hope of a better future was enlightening and also reminiscent of what I read in AVELOS.
We forget too often that immigrants are not leaving their countries to steal our jobs but rather to save their lives. In their shoes, we’d do the same.
And it reminds me of “With the Fire on High” because of all the food!
It seems that mothers, Asian or Haitian both show their love through their food. Also making sure their children never get cold.
A big lesson from that book, at least for me a white woman, is that indeed history is told by the “white guys” and this is far from the whole story. We hide what’s embarrassing for us, reshaping past events.
Chinese workers who built the railroad and are erased from official photographs.
These high school students, sons and daughters of immigrants had to look online to find the truth about their ancestors and about what happened. Nothing was ever mentioned in school manuals.
And of course, there is grief and depression. Grief so hard and deep it blankets that family in silence. Days of not leaving your bed, of not seeing that life is going on. The guilt was immense. Because of Danny’s suicide. May, her parents, Marc who was Danny’s best friend can’t help wonder “What if”? “What did I miss? What didn’t I see?”
Depression that you hide to your beloved ones. The one you try to fight but there are days where the darkness wins.
Joanna Ho did a fantastic job navigating us through that grief and through Danny’s depression. I cried so hard. Every time a memory of Danny protecting his little sister was mentioned. Every Halloween, every basketball game… I was drowning in grief too and I just wanted for Danny to come back. I wanted for him to get the help he needed so much.
May was a very relatable heroine. Daughter of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants, with her hoodie, her love of breakdance she was firmly rooted in American culture. With her love for writing she had to live with her mother’s silence when she knew she was disappointing her for not aiming higher. Mother and daughter loved each other but didn’t know how to communicate.
May was full of fire, determined to restore Danny’s memory.
With her best friend Tiya and her brother Marc, they will set things in motions to take back the narrative.
Tiya was the best friend I wish every girl had. Fierce, protective, luminous, determined to make it to Broadway stage even if her parents wanted her to become a doctor or a tech genius or…
Tiya and Marc will help May and her family from drowning in grief.
With a fluid writing, Joanna Ho has built a strong cast to lift that story of fight against prejudice, racism, forgotten stories, depression and grief. She broke my heart and in one strong swipe, gave it back to me.
PS That book is being released tomorrow, June 14th!
Thanks for reading.