One of our recommended books is The Silence that Binds Us by Joanna Ho


Joanna Ho, New York Times bestselling author of Eyes That Kiss in the Corners, has written an exquisite, heart-rending debut young adult novel that will inspire all to speak truth to power.

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,

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Joanna Ho, New York Times bestselling author of Eyes That Kiss in the Corners, has written an exquisite, heart-rending debut young adult novel that will inspire all to speak truth to power.

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.

Joanna Ho masterfully explores timely themes of mental health, racism, and classism.

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  • HarperTeen
  • Hardcover
  • June 2022
  • 448 Pages
  • 9780063059344

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About Joanna Ho

Joanna Ho is the author of The Silence that Binds UsJoanna Ho is the New York Times bestselling author of Eyes that Kiss in the Corners, Eyes that Speak to the Stars, Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma, and The Silence that Binds Us. She has been an English teacher, a dean, a professional development mastermind, and a high school vice principal. Her passion for equity in books and education is matched only by her love of homemade chocolate chip cookies, outdoor adventures, and dance parties with her kids.

Author Website


“A grieving teen fights Asian hate by finding her voice in this complex, timely story.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“With a layered, sensitive voice…Ho’s weighty novel delves into themes of racism, classism, loss, and healing.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

The Silence that Binds Us is a propulsive reminder that race-based discrimination takes a multitude of forms, all of them insidious and traumatic. I adored this ornately carved window into the core of shared humanity. A fascinating exploration of what happens when deeply rooted cultural norms collide with privilege-centered notions of ‘fairness.’ Read and re-read. Then read it again.”Nic Stone, New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin

‘Zinger after zinger, Joanna pierces us with the truth we can’t ignore even as she cocoons us in love. Just like May, she’s taking back the narrative with her powerful pen.”Abigail Hing Wen, New York Times bestselling author of Loveboat, Taipei

“A held-breath of a novel that finds courage amidst brokenness, and holds a candle to the dark.” — Stacey Lee, New York Times bestselling author of The Downstairs Girl

“A powerful, hopeful YA debut…May’s journey through personal and familial grief is poignant and questions of power and privilege are explored with nuance that will spark conversation among teen readers.”School Library Journal

Discussion Questions

1. Maybelline Chen isn’t the Chinese Taiwanese American daughter her mother expects her to be. What are the rules, implicit and explicit, that May identifies her mother having for her?

2. May’s beloved brother Danny secretly struggles with depression. What are some ways we as a community might address mental health in an honest and supportive way?

3. May’s story is ultimately one of healing, after the tragedy of her brother Danny’s death. Is there a time in your life when friends and family have helped you heal?

4. May’s friendship with Tiya and Marc is essential to May’s journey toward self-awareness and discovery, and explores Black and Asian solidarity—what does this mean to you?

5. “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.” How are those themes explored in the novel?

6. May experiences anti-Asian racism and learns to use her voice to combat it. Have you ever experienced racism? How might you help to speak out against it?

7. Have you ever felt silenced or made to feel invisible? What do you think the title, “The Silence that Binds Us” means?

8. May’s writing gives her the strength to be brave, to fight against injustice, and to take back the narrative. What is it about writing that makes May feel brave? How have you used your voice to help others?

9. Look at the cover. What symbolism do you see there?

10.May learns there is a cost that comes from speaking out. And there is a cost that comes from staying silent. How do we know the right path forward if every choice requires sacrifice?




My mom has her own personal arsenal of silence, and she wields it like the Force, bending me to her will. Her silence can be a flashing yellow light, warning me to proceed with caution, or a magnifying glass she uses to study me like I’m some kind of alien species. Most often, her silence is a hippo, pregnant with disappointment. She can brandish that hippo at me while gracefully hosting a dinner party, chatting up guests, and offering them tea.

Which is what she did on the night Danny died.

Just as the Wus arrived for dinner, Danny bounded down the stairs with all the grace of a six-foot water buffalo in basketball shorts, bellowing, “May-May! Have you seen my Star Wars socks?” He froze when he saw the Wus, then burst out laughing. “Everyone loves Star Wars, right?” Then he whipped around and ran back up to his room. He was extra scatterbrained his last few months, which was a little weird.

My mom emerged from the kitchen, perfectly pressed, with pearls of steam glistening in her hair. She just shook her head and laughed.

Her eyes flitted over to me, taking in my usual ripped jeans and hair, a cinnamon roll splat on top of my head. I was wearing my nicest hoodie, but that didn’t stop my mom’s right eyebrow from twitching, though her smile never wavered as she greeted our guests.

She didn’t say anything to me.

I glanced at Celeste, who of course looked perfect. Her hair glistened in a silky, straight waterfall down her back. She wore a loose black dress that hit modestly above her knees, the shapeless kind that would look like a potato sack on me but made her look like a model. Celeste had a figure made for qipao: slender, tiny really, with just the slightest suggestions of curves in all the right places.

When my mom greeted her, Celeste smiled, dipped her head, and said, , Āyí.” Her Mandarin didn’t have the telltale ABC accent; it sounded like she grew up in Taiwan.

Five minutes later, Danny came back down the stairs, dressed this time and still chuckling. “Hi, Uncle. Hi, Āyí. Hey, Celeste.”

Pink cherry blossoms bloomed on Celeste’s cheeks and I rolled my eyes. You and every other girl at school, I thought. My mom made a sucking sound against her teeth and cut her eyes over at me.

While my dad herded everyone into the dining room, I slipped upstairs and changed into a pair of skinny high-waisted jeans and a cream-colored cardigan with lacy detail on the sleeves. My mom got it for me a while ago and I hadn’t even taken the tags off. Because, not a hoodie. I brushed my hair, but it stuck out in haywire angles from being twisted up all day, so I tied it back up carefully, attempting to wrap it into a neat knot.

When I walked back into the dining room, tugging at the edge of my cardigan, Danny coughed into his noodles and arched his eyebrow at me. I gave him a death stare and he stifled a smile by blowing determinedly on his steaming bowl of niú ròu miàn.

My mom set a bowl in front of me and said,

It was too hot to eat, but too tempting to wait. The meat was so tender it melted as it touched my tongue. In between bites and burned mouths, everyone praised my mom for the beef noodle soup. She tried not to look too pleased and said, “ It’s only okay. I forgot to make the suāncài so it’s not as good today.” Then she changed the subject. “How’s school, Celeste?”

Celeste looked up, chopsticks frozen in the act of depositing noodles into her mouth. “It’s good, Āyí.”

Auntie Wu jumped in. “I heard you did very well on your math test last week, May.”

“Not as well as Celeste,” my mom said. “I heard she got the top score!”

Celeste shifted uncomfortably. I don’t know where my mom gets her information, but she has her ways, and she takes a special interest in math because she’s an engineer. It’s just another reason for her to summon that pregnant hippo. Math is whatever to me; I’d rather be writing.

My mom directed her praise to Uncle and Auntie Wu.”

“She stays up so late to study, sometimes we worry about her,” said Auntie Wu, shaking her head. “I say to her, ‘Go to sleep or you will ruin your eyes.’ But she just keeps working.”

Studying hard is a good thing.”

“I tell her to relax a little. An A-minus never killed anyone!” Uncle Wu laughed and looked at my dad. “If I’d ever brought home an A-minus, my mom would have thrown me a party.”

“You couldn’t have afforded the bribe to get an A-minus. You spent more time in the principal’s office than in class,” my dad retorted. They looked at each other and laughed harder, past memories filling the space between their eyes.

Uncle Wu and dad grew up together in San Francisco’s Chinatown. When Uncle Wu came over, they slipped in and out between Cantonese and English—amphibians of language comfortable in both habitats. I loved seeing my dad morph into his teenage self: the swagger, the laughter, the slang all came back when Uncle Wu was around.

“What would Joe think of us now, all cleaned up? With kids?” Uncle Wu said while slurping up a bite of noodles. “He wouldn’t believe it.”

“He’d love it.” My dad’s smile drooped as he looked toward the living room, where a faded picture of Uncle Joe sat on a bookshelf. “This is all because of him.”

“Ai-yah, you were such troublemakers,” said my mom, tilting the subject back toward humor with her mock exasperation. “I’m glad I met you after your Chinatown days.”

She started scooping more noodles and soup into our bowls. I shook my head a little and croaked, “I’m good, Ma. I’m full.”

“Full? You barely ate, Maybelline.” My name was my mom’s idea. When she was a young graduate, fresh out of Taiwan’s top university, she saw a commercial for Maybelline makeup products that sang, “Maybe it’s Maybelline.” She thought it sounded beautiful and refined, everything she hoped her future daughter would become.

She’s the only one who actually calls me by my full name.

My mom tried to sound chipper in front of our guests, but chipper on my mom is like a fake tan on a Minnesotan in winter. As she ladled soup and meat into my bowl, she said, “I thought niú ròu miàn was your favorite.” Her eyes flashed a silent warning: Don’t embarrass me.

I really was stuffed but gave up protesting. It’s just safer to keep my mouth shut. Every time I retreat into my cave of silence, I spruce the place up. At this point, I’ve basically decorated myself a room complete with Pocky, books, a couple leafy plants, and a bed. I’m comfortable here.

As everyone tucked into beef noodle soup, round two, my mom looked up like she’d just thought of something, though I got the sense she’d been waiting for this moment all day. She said, “Danny, tell everyone the news!”

Auntie Wu sat up. “! Wasn’t today the day that—”

Danny’s eyes widened, and I glimpsed a flash of something drowning behind them. He choked. “Not now, Ma.”

“Now is a perfect time! We’re like family here.”

Danny stared for a long second at his noodle bowl, then rearranged his face so quickly that no one else noticed. He said, “I got into Princeton.” He smiled and showed the high dimple on his right cheek—it always looked as if someone had pinned it out of place.

Congratulations burst around the table, and someone asked, “Did you hear from Stanford yet?” Danny shook his head. He kept smiling, but his dimple faded. He looked lost as he disappeared beneath best wishes and well-intentioned questions.

I watched him closely and frowned. Something was wrong. I tried to catch his eye, but he wouldn’t look at me. He knew I was trying to telegraph a million questions to his brain.

“We have some exciting news to share too,” said Auntie Wu, looking at her daughter. Celeste gave her mom a look that said, Shut up, Mom, and shook her head faintly. Auntie Wu kept talking. “Celeste was accepted into a summer internship program at Google! It is supposed to be for graduating seniors, but she got in even though she’ll only be a junior next year.”

Auntie Wu practically exploded out of her skin she was so dang proud. My mom clasped her hands, a speechless smile spread across her face. She never looked at me that way, a lantern glowing with pride. That look was always saved for Celeste.

“May, ? What will you be doing this summer?” asked Auntie Wu.

The smell of jasmine wafted beneath my nose as Celeste looked down and refilled teacups around the table before pouring her own. I looked at Auntie Wu and said lamely, “Oh, uh, I don’t really know.”

Obviously, not the right answer.

“May is an amazing writer,” Danny chimed in, always there to step in for me. Then he grinned. “She’s also a pretty dope break-dancer.”

I choked on a chunk of beef but let Danny keep talking. He continued, “Back in the day, she thought she was going to become a member of the Jabbawockeez, and she spent all her time working on her moves.”

He glanced at me quickly and gave me a lightning-fast wink. I smiled back, grateful for his deflection. He knew I hated the sensation of other people’s eyeballs resting on my face, watching me. Sizing me up. When people look at me, I feel like their eyes highlight all my deficiencies. I hate that feeling so much I almost failed seventh-grade English because I refused to give the final presentation in front of my class. I only passed because Ms. Johnson let me redo the presentation alone after school. I’ve gotten a little braver since then, but not much.

“Danny used to practice with May in her room,” said my dad, bobbing his head in a terrible mimicry of our dance moves.

“Whoa, please stop, Bà. She clearly didn’t get her dance genes from you,” said Danny. My dad socked him in the shoulder. Everyone laughed as the conversation skipped right over me.

My mom collected bowls and chopsticks as she cleared the table. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. The hippo at her side shaking its head at me said it all.