Author visit reminds students of cultural importance

Kristine Lin, Managing Editor

New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Joanna Ho speaks to Palo Alto High School students about her young adult book “The Silence that Binds Us” during PRIME on Wednesday in the library. According to Ho, who graduated from Paly in 2000, she included many of her high school and cultural experiences in her book. “With a Taiwanese Chinese background, writing some stories that are coming from one particular perspective of somebody who went to Paly, who actually lived in Palo Alto, there’s lots of different layers in my experience,” Ho said. (Photo: Kristine Lin)

Joanna Ho is not staying silent.

Not with the reported rate of anti-Asian hate crimes surging by over 300% over the past years, according to the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism.

In her recent young adult book, “The Silence that Binds Us,” the Palo Alto High School alum and New York Times bestselling and award-winning author stresses the importance of addressing anti-Asian racism, as well as mental health and suicide. The powerful and heart-wrenching story centers around protagonist Maybelline Chen and her Taiwanese Chinese family as they navigate through the aftermath of loss and hardships in American society.

Ho visited Paly during PRIME on Wednesday in the library to discuss her book. According to Ho, she hopes to encourage greater connection between her fictional characters and readers.

“I hope that students who aren’t Asian, who identify in so many other ways, can see themselves in some of the universal truths or universal experiences that are told throughout the story,” Ho said. “Lots of people who aren’t from a huge diversity of age and also ethnic and racial backgrounds have messaged me and just talked about the ways that the book has been life-changing, eye-opening or resonant for them.”

According to librarian Sima Thomas, “The Silence that Binds Us” is an incredibly moving story.

“I couldn’t believe how beautiful [and] well-written it was,” Thomas said. “[The book was] so tragic, but also there was a lot of growth and love. I felt like it’s such an important message, looking into all the ways that we’re blind to our own blunders and racism and the systems that cause it all.”

Thomas said she hopes Ho will revisit and impact a larger audience with her presentation.

“I’d love to get her back to do [a presentation on] a more whole-school scale,” Ho said. “I thought [in] the way she presented it, I was enthralled the whole time.”

As a Paly graduate from the class of 2000, Ho said much of the story is focused on the high school experience inspired by her memories at Paly.

“It would be a dream if this book was taught in high schools and especially at Paly because it’s based on not just my experience—it’s based [on] and inspired by Paly itself,” Ho said.

According to senior Brooke Threlkeld, she felt a deeper connection to Ho and her work with their shared Paly experience, as well as by meeting the author in-person.

“I think it was just amazing that she came from Paly and to see my experience at Paly reflected [in the book],” Threlkeld said. “Just reading the book, I got a sense that she and I have [similar] experiences, but then actually seeing her [Ho] in-person and being able to talk to her, I realized that we have more similarities.”

Ho said the primary reason she accepted the invitation to visit Paly was to encourage her audience to promote truth and transparency, as she does in her stories.

“It’s the idea that there is a dominant narrative that is told in society, particularly about marginalized people,” Ho said. “As students, as educators, we have the power to take back our own narratives and to share the stories and histories that are more aligned with truth. We can change the systems that continue to perpetuate a dominant narrative that keeps particular systems of hierarchy in place.”