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What does it mean to lose your roots—within your culture, within your family—and what happens when you find them? Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From early childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biolo What does it mean to lose your roots—within your culture, within your family—and what happens when you find them? Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From early childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hopes of giving her a better life; that forever feeling slightly out of place was simply her fate as a transracial adoptee. But as she grew up—facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see, finding her identity as an Asian American and a writer, becoming ever more curious about where she came from—she wondered if the story she’d been told was the whole truth. With warmth, candor, and startling insight, Chung tells of her search for the people who gave her up, which coincided with the birth of her own child. All You Can Ever Know is a profound, moving chronicle of surprising connections and the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets—vital reading for anyone who has ever struggled to figure out where they belong.


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What does it mean to lose your roots—within your culture, within your family—and what happens when you find them? Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From early childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biolo What does it mean to lose your roots—within your culture, within your family—and what happens when you find them? Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From early childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hopes of giving her a better life; that forever feeling slightly out of place was simply her fate as a transracial adoptee. But as she grew up—facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see, finding her identity as an Asian American and a writer, becoming ever more curious about where she came from—she wondered if the story she’d been told was the whole truth. With warmth, candor, and startling insight, Chung tells of her search for the people who gave her up, which coincided with the birth of her own child. All You Can Ever Know is a profound, moving chronicle of surprising connections and the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets—vital reading for anyone who has ever struggled to figure out where they belong.

30 review for All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Celeste Ng

    This book moved me to my very core. As all her writing, Nicole Chung speaks eloquently and honestly about her own personal story, then widens her aperture to illuminate all of us. ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW is full of insights on race, motherhood, and family of all kinds, but what sets it apart is the compassion Chung brings to every facet of her search for identity and every person portrayed in these pages. This book should be required reading for anyone who has ever had, wanted, or found a family-- This book moved me to my very core. As all her writing, Nicole Chung speaks eloquently and honestly about her own personal story, then widens her aperture to illuminate all of us. ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW is full of insights on race, motherhood, and family of all kinds, but what sets it apart is the compassion Chung brings to every facet of her search for identity and every person portrayed in these pages. This book should be required reading for anyone who has ever had, wanted, or found a family--which is to say, everyone.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    When I started thinking about how I was going to describe this book, the words that came to mind were the kind of words you'd read on a bottle of water: pure, clear, undiluted. Every time I read it it was like turning on a faucet of raw emotion, a view into the author's experience that was like looking through freshly-cleaned glass. Forgive me if I'm getting pulled into mixed metaphors, but when I tried to explain it these were the kinds of images that came to me over and over again. I would sit When I started thinking about how I was going to describe this book, the words that came to mind were the kind of words you'd read on a bottle of water: pure, clear, undiluted. Every time I read it it was like turning on a faucet of raw emotion, a view into the author's experience that was like looking through freshly-cleaned glass. Forgive me if I'm getting pulled into mixed metaphors, but when I tried to explain it these were the kinds of images that came to me over and over again. I would sit and read and immediately be immersed in feeling from experiences that were nothing like my own but that were spread before me with full clarity. This is not the kind of memoir packed with wild tales. It considers one part of Chung's life: her adoption. Her birth parents were Korean immigrants, her adoptive parents were white. Her adoption took place in the 80's before the complexities of transracial adoption were generally acknowledged. She was her parents' only child, and almost always the only non-white person in the small Oregon town where she grew up. Chung heard the kind of simple, happy-ending adoption narrative that adoptees are often fed. They are the kind of answers meant to stop questions before they are spoken. From childhood Chung always felt more than she knew she was supposed to feel about her adoption, and in adulthood she decided to track down her birth family. The story of her birth family ends up being as complicated and difficult as the emotions she's long felt, and Chung narrates to us the ways her discoveries are joyful, illuminating, and frustrating. Often as a child, she does not reveal to her parents how she feels or how she is being treated to save them pain or trouble. It is not surprising then that she brings a deep emotional acuity, of herself and those around her, to the often-difficult ground they must tread together. I have taken particular joy lately in memoirs and essays that portray an experience different from my own. Perhaps because when they are done particularly well I get to see the world and my own life in a different way. While reading this book I thought often about my own family, the one I was born into and the one I've made for myself. I saw much that I had taken for granted as someone who has never questioned who their parents are and why they are together. And I looked at myself differently as a parent, considering the ways in which I show my children that they are loved and wanted. I spent a lot of time thinking about identity, how it can be tied up with family and heritage, how it can be so much more complicated than anyone around us suspects. It's a beautiful book. Note: Nicole and I are friends on Twitter, she has also edited my own writing in the past.

  3. 4 out of 5

    R.O. Kwon

    An urgent, incandescent exploration of what it can mean to love, and of who gets to belong, in an increasingly divided country. Nicole Chung's powerful All You Can Ever Know is necessary reading, a dazzling light to help lead the way during these times.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I absolutely adored of Nicole Chung's account of her transracial adoption, which has been popping up on many best-of lists this month. It's legitimately one of the best memoirs I've ever read, and I wrote a master's thesis on memoirs. This book tells a fascinating tale and it does so with beautiful writing. It's hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't enjoy reading it. So here's the thing: I'm not adopted. I'm white, my parents are white, my husband is white. We're not, and have no plans to become, I absolutely adored of Nicole Chung's account of her transracial adoption, which has been popping up on many best-of lists this month. It's legitimately one of the best memoirs I've ever read, and I wrote a master's thesis on memoirs. This book tells a fascinating tale and it does so with beautiful writing. It's hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't enjoy reading it. So here's the thing: I'm not adopted. I'm white, my parents are white, my husband is white. We're not, and have no plans to become, parents. My only experience with transracial adoption is a handful of conversations with a Latino guy I dated for a couple months in my midtwenties about his white adoptive parents. On the surface, there's very little here that I can relate to. But the book is eye-opening in how it explores issues that I will never experience myself, such as how the difficult decision to search for birth parents without upsetting adoptive parents, struggling to feel connected to your cultural heritage when you're raised outside of it, how to explain your transracial adoption to your own children. They're things that seem like they might be kind of obvious, but Nicole explores them in surprising and insightful ways that made those experiences feel very real to me. But, really, the part of this book that spoke to me the most, on a personal level, was Nicole's relationship with her sister. Though the circumstances were very different, I also developed an adult relationship with a sister who was not part of my childhood due to some complex family secrets. It's a weird, weird situation (I still have childhood friends who blanch when I mention "my sister" or who have even pointed out, "you don't have a sister") and I don't think it's really all that uncommon. And yet, it's not something that I've read about in very many memoirs. And so even though the other aspects of the memoir were well-done and will likely resonate with others, it was that aspect of the book that was the most powerful to me as a reader.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Nicole Chung was born premature to Korean shopkeepers who already had two daughters. This was 1981 Seattle, and her parents felt unequal to the challenge of raising a child who might have disabilities. They offered their baby up for adoption, and she was raised by white parents in Portland, Oregon. The whole time she was growing up, Chung felt like the only Asian around, and she experienced childhood bullying. Only when she visited the Seattle Chinatown with her adoptive mother did she feel like Nicole Chung was born premature to Korean shopkeepers who already had two daughters. This was 1981 Seattle, and her parents felt unequal to the challenge of raising a child who might have disabilities. They offered their baby up for adoption, and she was raised by white parents in Portland, Oregon. The whole time she was growing up, Chung felt like the only Asian around, and she experienced childhood bullying. Only when she visited the Seattle Chinatown with her adoptive mother did she feel like there were others like her in the world. Much of the book is about the efforts Chung made to reconnect with her birth family in her mid-twenties, when she was starting her own family. She formed a close relationship with her sister Cindy and met her father, but never went further than a couple of phone calls with her birth mother, who she learned had physically abused Cindy. The account of the author’s pregnancy and labor with her first child is a highlight. On the whole, though, this memoir rarely rises above a flat recounting of events; its language never sings. “My identity as an adoptee is complicated, fluid, but then so is everyone else’s,” Chung concludes, and that’s the problem – for an out-of-the-ordinary life story this ends up coming across as fairly average. Those with an interest in cross-racial adoption will certainly want to read it, but its appeal to general memoir readers may be somewhat limited.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Monica Kim: Reader in Emerald City

    **this review ended up being way too longer than I’d like to, but I had so much to say, so brace yourselves! . . so when people asked me about my family, my features, the fate I’d been dealt, maybe it isn’t surprising how I answered — first in a childish, cheerful chirrup, later in the lecturing tone of one obliged to educate. I arrive to be calm and direct, never giving anything away in my voice, never changing the details. Offering the story I’d learned so early was, I thought, one way to gain a **this review ended up being way too longer than I’d like to, but I had so much to say, so brace yourselves! . . so when people asked me about my family, my features, the fate I’d been dealt, maybe it isn’t surprising how I answered — first in a childish, cheerful chirrup, later in the lecturing tone of one obliged to educate. I arrive to be calm and direct, never giving anything away in my voice, never changing the details. Offering the story I’d learned so early was, I thought, one way to gain acceptance. It was both the excuse for how I looked, and a way of asking pardon for it. — Nicole Chung, All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir . . When I was junior in high school, my family decided to make another BIG move, from Honolulu to Eugene, Oregon (home of the ducks); first BIG move was immigrating from rural countryside in South Korea to Honolulu. My dad had moved first, working tirelessly to save money to sponsor rest of us. Those who may not know, sponsoring family is a long, arduous, daunting, and expensive endeavor; not to mention the emotional hardship of being away from the family, in a foreign country, and facing the unknown every single day. . Anyways, we moved to the mainland in hopes of a better future. We packed up our stuff in a container that was to be shipped to the mainland, and we said farewell to many people who came to the airport to see our family and got on my first plane ride since immigrating to America. It wouldn’t be until college, my sister and I’ll start traveling. People ask me all the time, “why did your family move from paradise?” Let me tell you, living and visiting paradise are two totally different things, and Hawaii has lots of problems. My auntie was living in Beaverton at that time, and thought perhaps we could open a little grocery shop of our own, but it didn’t work out, and we were miserable. . Despite being a college town, there was nothing to do, and we didn’t know know anyone, so it was hard for us. For my sister and I, being teenagers and all, leaving our friends, whom our lives evolved around, was really difficult. Think of it now, sounds so selfish. We were there for little less than two months, and after registering for school, I skipped it every day. I just couldn’t do it. Boy, was Oregon a culture shock or what! I’ve never seen so many White people in my life! Hawaii is about 75% Asians, and rest are Hawaiians, islanders, and mix of few other races. The first (also the last day of school), besides my sister & me, there was no other Asians, except for one other Korean girl who was an adoptee. Before than, I didn’t know what adoption was nor never knew anyone who was adopted, it just never crossed my mind. . We burned through our savings pretty quick and find out that my dad’s old friend was living in federal Way (30 minute south of Seattle), we couldn’t leave Eugene any sooner — we gave up our apartment deposit, packed up & rented u-haul, and left the next day! One of the best decisions my family has ever made. Washington has been a true blessing for our family, it’s been real good to us. My sister & I made friends really quick & went to college, and my dad opened a small construction business & bought a house couple years later we arrived. When we registered for school in federal way, there were couple of Korean adoptees there, and we’ll see more in college. And they were always Asians adopted into a white family. And til this day, I always wondered what it must’ve been like to grown up as an Asian adoptee in a white family. . Nicole Chung’s “All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir” was a book I’ve always wanted to read, and it certainly answered many of the questions I wondered about for many years. Born severely premature, Nicole was placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. As she grew up and was starting a family of her own, she embarks on a search for the family that had given up on her. She grew up in a loving family, but knew she was different and her search for her identity & family were always there. This book takes us through Nicole’s journey & behind her mind from her childhood to adulthood to motherhood, searching for her true identity & biological family, it is really eye-opening, insightful, and heartbreaking read. She opens up about her life with warmth, honesty, authenticity, and candor. When she is reunited with her biological family, it’s both a good & not so good experience as she learns more about their past & current situations. I applaud Nicole’s courage in her quest, sharing her journey, writing a book that needed to be written & shared, and being the voice for the adoptees & people who were curious about adoption. . This book is much more than just story of one adoptee’s search for her identity & family, it’s a book for everyone who’s ever struggled with their identity & where they belong. We’ve all certainly been through it one way or another. I grew up in Hawaii, where I felt I like belonged, but when we first immigrated, I was so lost & confused. And even as I grow up & became an adult and as an Asian American woman, I go & went through a different kinds of search of belonging — my role & purpose in this world, who am I in this world, how I do fit in this divided country, gender role, cultural role, preserving my identity, and as someone dating an American man & how would I want to raise my family in the future, and so on... . I do want to mention that there were few things I would’ve like to see it done different — it has more to do with writing, composition, and editing than the story itself. Although I enjoyed the book and learned so much from her story, the book didn’t need to be 200 pages. It’s a slim book, but also overly redundant, it goes around & around. I’m going to disagree with other readers, it is poorly edited, almost feel like it wasn’t even edited. There were way too many sentences that just didn’t flow. It’s written conversational-like, Nicole pouring out what’s on her mind, but it still needed to be polished up. And, her adopted parents became a background towards the middle to end of the book. Nicole got caught up with the search & bonding process, and they almost became nonexistent, and you don’t hear about them again until the Acknowledgment section at the end. Overall, a great, thoughtful, and insightful story, I’ve always wanted to read a book about the cross-racial adoption family.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    Nicole Chung shares her story of growing up as a transracial adoptee in a small Oregon town where she was often the only person of color. I heard some of her story on the NPR Code Switch podcast (recommended), but didn't know what happened after she looked into her birth parents. She navigates the questions of adoption, parenthood, family, and identity with nuance. If you are a person that likes to read similar themes across fiction and memoir, this one ties very directly to the YA novel Far from Nicole Chung shares her story of growing up as a transracial adoptee in a small Oregon town where she was often the only person of color. I heard some of her story on the NPR Code Switch podcast (recommended), but didn't know what happened after she looked into her birth parents. She navigates the questions of adoption, parenthood, family, and identity with nuance. If you are a person that likes to read similar themes across fiction and memoir, this one ties very directly to the YA novel Far from the Tree by Robin Benway.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chandra Claypool (wherethereadergrows)

    I'm not usually big on memoirs but when presented with this copy to review, I couldn't say no. A beautifully poignant and emotionally filled memoir of a Korean girl adopted by white parents and facing racism and prejudice no one around her could understand. This journey of her finding her way and wanting to know about her biological family and the story behind it is moving and oh so real. I felt so much empathy when reading about Nicole's childhood and, while we all know children can be mean, whe I'm not usually big on memoirs but when presented with this copy to review, I couldn't say no. A beautifully poignant and emotionally filled memoir of a Korean girl adopted by white parents and facing racism and prejudice no one around her could understand. This journey of her finding her way and wanting to know about her biological family and the story behind it is moving and oh so real. I felt so much empathy when reading about Nicole's childhood and, while we all know children can be mean, when you don't understand them pulling their eyes back and telling you that you don't belong... well that I absolutely can understand. Being half Korean, I remember these kinds of things happening to me and running home and crying to my dad about it. I was so excited to go to Korea where I would finally belong, only to be made fun of for being half white. At least I had my parents to speak to.. even if they could never fully understand. Nicole didn't have a cultural background to help her understand why she was "different". While Korean on the outside, she felt white because that's the only culture she knew. I absolutely applaud the courage it took for her to reach out and find her biological family. I can't imagine what it's like to be adopted and this story truly opens up your eyes as you ride the roller coaster of emotions with her. I think we have all had a moment in our lives where we struggled to figure out where we belonged in this world. And if nothing else resonates with you, this surely will. Chung's first novel is definitely one to pick up. There's no if you liked that, you'll like this... because I think memoirs are what they are - individually based and incomparable to anything else around them. I definitely felt a connection with this book and isn't that one of the things we look for when reading a novel? Thank you to Catapult for this read!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    A thoughtful, if discursive, memoir about a Korean-American girl growing up and finding her birth family. It could have been written at about half the length.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lupita Reads

    Five stars five stars! Because I can’t wait to read this!!!!!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Canadian Reader

    The content is suitable for an essay or a magazine feature piece. There just isn’t enough here for a full-length memoir. The writing is unremarkable, often bland, frequently repetitive, and overly padded. I’m surprised by the high ratings.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Misty

    After I finished “All You Can Ever Know,” I wanted to press it into the hands of my loved ones and say, “This is the book you must read if you want to understand me. THIS is a book finally written for me.” In "All You Can Ever Know," Chung shares her experience as a transracial adoptee. It is an exploration of family and identity and the tension between the two – how family forms your identity and subsumes your identity for the sake of the tribe. It is a topic I know well. Like Chung, I am Korean After I finished “All You Can Ever Know,” I wanted to press it into the hands of my loved ones and say, “This is the book you must read if you want to understand me. THIS is a book finally written for me.” In "All You Can Ever Know," Chung shares her experience as a transracial adoptee. It is an exploration of family and identity and the tension between the two – how family forms your identity and subsumes your identity for the sake of the tribe. It is a topic I know well. Like Chung, I am Korean by ethnicity but was adopted and raised by a white family. It takes place in a setting — the Pacific Northwest — that is also the backdrop to my life. Chung was born premature at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Her birth family gave her up for adoption for reasons that reveal themselves as the book goes on. She was adopted by a loving couple in southern Oregon. Teased and bullied by her classmates as a child, Chung always wondered about her birth family and was faced with the limits of what she could know, giving the book its title. One day she found a business card with a lawyer’s name on it in her parents’ files. She called the number and set off a series of events that connected her with her birth family. I grew up in Port Orchard on Washington’s Kitsap Peninsula. Because of its proximity to Bremerton, the navy town just north, my town was more diverse than Chung’s. But still I stuck out. I was browner than the mostly white community surrounding me. Raised by a white family, I didn’t have much in common with the people of color I met either. My family was very loving and I found a community of friends I have to this day, but often I had to face how alone I was. That’s why reading “All You Can Ever Know” feels like such a solace — for the first time the story being told is my story too. With honesty and clarity, Chung shares experiences and emotions I’ve had too — some of which I haven’t been brave enough to write about or even verbalize: How her parents completely accepted her into the family but weren’t prepared to acknowledge the things that made her different; how pain over adoption is kept secret because it feels like a betrayal of the community who raised you; how having a child of her own made her curiosity about her origins all the more urgent until she couldn’t deny it any longer. For me, the book’s biggest revelation is about narratives — the stories we tell to make sense of ourselves. I don’t know my origins or reasons for being on this earth. I was told I was abandoned at a police station in South Korea, and I can’t even know if that’s true. How can I make sense of my story? Chung’s parents told her it was God’s plan for her to be with them. My non-religious community told me that it was destiny, meant to be. But if it was written in the stars, there’s no room to question it. The counter-narrative states that you can’t feel whole until you’ve found your origins – that reunion will heal the wounds in your heart. Neither sits right with me. One approach prioritizes the role of the adoptive family, while the other prioritizes the birth culture. What if there’s another option? Chung shows us a new narrative that belongs to the adoptee alone: the fate of the adoptee is to always be questing, processing and reinventing the meaning of family and heritage. As the book goes on, Chung finds answers, but they lead to even more questions and open up more wounds, while healing others. At book’s end, her journey isn’t over. Quoting a birth mother, she writes, “If there’s something that everyone should know about adoption, it’s that there’s no end to this. There’s no closure.” My grandpa just turned 98. On one visit, he looked at me, his eyes moistening, and said in his slow Southern drawl, “We sure are lucky to have you. Do you ever think about finding your parents?” For the first time, someone in my family was asking about my adoption. At his old age, he still wants to know and connect. He remembers that my experience in the family is different. “I don’t know, Grandpa, I just don’t know,” I said. Nicole Chung’s memoir has shown me how an adoptee’s search evolves but never ends. That is my story. I know this answer is the best I can give right now, and I know someday my answer may change. For now, it is enough.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know is a beautifully rendered memoir of family construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction. Viewed through a wide-angle lens, Chung challenges her readers to ponder the limits of biological determinism and free will. Viewed through a narrow-angle lens, Chung challenges her readers to consider trans-racial adoptions and reunification with biological families. No, not consider trans-racial adoption and reunification from a moral or a values-based perspective, Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know is a beautifully rendered memoir of family construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction. Viewed through a wide-angle lens, Chung challenges her readers to ponder the limits of biological determinism and free will. Viewed through a narrow-angle lens, Chung challenges her readers to consider trans-racial adoptions and reunification with biological families. No, not consider trans-racial adoption and reunification from a moral or a values-based perspective, but from the nuanced emotional perspectives of those involved. Chung writes with the grace and verve of a good novelist, and All You Can Ever Know fascinates from beginning to end.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa Hua

    Powerful, deeply affecting memoir about love, longing, belonging, and family. An unforgettable debut.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joy

    "...it's always a welcome relief to find myself in the company of other adopted people, because only we can understand what it means to grow up adopted." I loved this memoir, for its lovely writing, for its moving story, but most of all, because I could nod along in recognition at so much of it, even though Nicole Chung's story differs so much from my own. Those moments of recognition in literature are so rare for transracial adoptees, that when I find them, I breathe deeply and revel in the feel "...it's always a welcome relief to find myself in the company of other adopted people, because only we can understand what it means to grow up adopted." I loved this memoir, for its lovely writing, for its moving story, but most of all, because I could nod along in recognition at so much of it, even though Nicole Chung's story differs so much from my own. Those moments of recognition in literature are so rare for transracial adoptees, that when I find them, I breathe deeply and revel in the feeling of being seen. This is a memoir I will revisit over the years and give to other adoptees I know.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I knew this book was going to be great, but I did not expect that it would make me cry quite so quickly. (For the record, the first tears came on page 16.) What an amazingly honest, open, full-hearted story Nicole Chung has given us about adoption, about heritage, about self-understanding, about family, and how families are both made and inherited. I’m just so happy this book exists.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Christina Grace

    Greatest book ever written by one of the greatest living writers

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    "I finally understood what my birth parents did not: my adoption was hard, and complicated, but it was not a tragedy. It was not my fault, and it wasn’t theirs, either. It was the easiest way to solve just one of too many problems." I basically read this all in one sitting last Saturday morning. It's a relative short book at around 220 pages, but I think I would have wanted to read it fast even if it were 400. Nichole Chung, unsurprisingly to anyone who's read her other work (I've mostly done s "I finally understood what my birth parents did not: my adoption was hard, and complicated, but it was not a tragedy. It was not my fault, and it wasn’t theirs, either. It was the easiest way to solve just one of too many problems." I basically read this all in one sitting last Saturday morning. It's a relative short book at around 220 pages, but I think I would have wanted to read it fast even if it were 400. Nichole Chung, unsurprisingly to anyone who's read her other work (I've mostly done so on The (dearly departed) Toast), is a very good writer. In fact, she started writing about adoption years before this book was published; I remember reading several of her articles about it and thinking at the time that she should write a book. And hey, here it is! And hey, it's good! Nicole Chung was adopted at two months old by a white Catholic family. She was born severely premature, and her adoptive parents were told that her birth family felt like they wouldn't be able to care for her properly. She had a loving relationship with them, but at an early age began to struggle with fears relating to her adoption, curiosity about her birth family, and the bigoted reactions of everyone around her to her transracial adoption. At points, she was outright bullied. Her parents meant well, but their closed approach to adoption did not help Nicole with the things she was struggling with, and that only other adoptees in such a situation could understand. The book is split into sections, the first of which details her life as a transracial adoptee, and her decision to eventually seek out her birth family, her hopes and fears and expectations. The second section follows her as she tracks them down, while simultaneously preparing to become a mother. And the third and fourth as she reunites with her family. All of these sections are filled with introspective, compassionate writing. I am not adopted, nor do I have experience with adoption beyond having a close friend who is an adoptee (but who doesn't like to talk about it), but Nicole is such a good writer, she makes you feel everything she's going through. I highly, highly recommend this, and I hope she writes another book soon. [4.5 stars]

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robert Blumenthal

    This is a timely and well-written memoir that addresses the issues around mixed race adoptions. Nicole Chung, a Korean American, was adopted as a premature baby by a loving and religious couple in Seattle. They moved to Southern Oregon where she was brought up. Throughout her childhood, she was teased at her all white Catholic school, and she was never given the opportunity to explore her birth family's heritage. When she becomes pregnant herself, she decides to search for her birth parents and This is a timely and well-written memoir that addresses the issues around mixed race adoptions. Nicole Chung, a Korean American, was adopted as a premature baby by a loving and religious couple in Seattle. They moved to Southern Oregon where she was brought up. Throughout her childhood, she was teased at her all white Catholic school, and she was never given the opportunity to explore her birth family's heritage. When she becomes pregnant herself, she decides to search for her birth parents and discovers some surprising things along the way. The author had always assumed that her birth parents had abandoned her because they could not care for her and wanted what was best for her. In the process of exploring her past, she learns that this was much more nuanced than she thought. Probably the most important emotional event was discovering and then meeting her full sister Cindy, with whom she establishes a loving and supportive relationship. I liked how the author reveals her personal experiences and reactions to various events in her life. I also liked how she showed how it is for a person of another culture to live in these United States, especially recently under our horribly racist and xenophobic leader. The politics are kept to a minimum, but the sentiment is definitely there. I do feel, though, that this memoir was not as involving as others that I have read, mostly because I wasn't able to completely relate to her experiences. I loved the sense of mystery in the first 2/3 of the book, but I found the last third to be a bit more difficult for me. I was never bored, but things did seem to get just a bit repetitive for me. If this is a book that you find yourself relating to (whether you have been adopted or of a non-White background), I think you will be very affected and moved my it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Traci at The Stacks

    I’ve never read anything about adoption that taught me so much. I had lots of gaps in my understanding for this process and am grateful for so much that came up. As a mixed kid I related to parts of this book about identity and other parts felt so unfamiliar. Chung is open and bares her insecurities in a way that impressed and awed me. At times the story set up questions that were unanswered. I might have wanted more on what her transracial experiences were as a teen/young adult.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    The suspense in this memoir makes it compulsively readable; it comes from the question of whether the author will search for her birthparents, and if so, whether she finds them. This plot is further complicated by an unexpected revelation that moves the story forward in a spot where it might otherwise hit a lull. And throughout the book, Chung demonstrates an exceptional emotional intelligence about her own feelings and the feelings of others, including her much-loved adoptive parents. She also The suspense in this memoir makes it compulsively readable; it comes from the question of whether the author will search for her birthparents, and if so, whether she finds them. This plot is further complicated by an unexpected revelation that moves the story forward in a spot where it might otherwise hit a lull. And throughout the book, Chung demonstrates an exceptional emotional intelligence about her own feelings and the feelings of others, including her much-loved adoptive parents. She also examines wider issues, including the difficulties posed by transracial adoption and closed adoption. I was struck by Nicole Chung's deep compassion for the people involved in her story. The final section of the memoir reads as a sort of coda, clearly explaining emotional, social, and identity issues and losses inherent in adoption. This section may be of special interest to those looking to educate themselves. Since I'm an adoptee, this memoir was, perhaps, particularly moving for me. The author describes her sense of being different from her adoptive family, and her questions/mysteries about identity with lyricism and care. Elements of Nicole Chung's story will be familiar to all sorts of adoptees, especially, of course, Asian transracial adoptees. But any reader can identify with the search for one's true identity in the context of family -- the bildungsroman, coming-of-age story. Skillfully written, this memoir is one I will return to, even though I now know how the story "ends."

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jason Diamond

    I think the point of a memoir is to not only tell an interesting story all the way through but to also teach the reader something. Lots of memoirs are filled with pages meant to do just that: fill the pages. Memoirs get a bad rep because people think they can write them, but they can't. The truth is that everybody has an interesting story they can share with the world and that readers will benefit from, but not many can fill up a hundred or two pages with it. Nicole Chung did, and she also wrote I think the point of a memoir is to not only tell an interesting story all the way through but to also teach the reader something. Lots of memoirs are filled with pages meant to do just that: fill the pages. Memoirs get a bad rep because people think they can write them, but they can't. The truth is that everybody has an interesting story they can share with the world and that readers will benefit from, but not many can fill up a hundred or two pages with it. Nicole Chung did, and she also wrote this memoir that gives readers a unique point of view that not everybody might be privy to. This moving book is to me what a memoir should be. I loved reading it, and I got a lot out of it. I'm very glad I read it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Karen Geiger

    I’m really surprised this book has such great reviews. The writing is clunky and flat, rendering what could have been a compelling memoir about mixed race adoption, into a very ordinary tale. Having to re-read sentences that simply didn’t flow was super distracting. And at the end I felt that the whole thing could have been edited down to an essay instead of a book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Simone

    I'm not 100% sure what "a tour de force" means, but I feel like that it makes sense for this book. I didn't know much about Nicole Chung's life other than that she's the editor-in-chief of Catapult's online literary magazine and she's an amazing writer. I knew she was Korean, but the rest of her life was a complete mystery. So going into this novel, I didn't think it would be the story of a young woman trying to find her birth parents. I didn't know Nicole Chung was adopted or the circumstances o I'm not 100% sure what "a tour de force" means, but I feel like that it makes sense for this book. I didn't know much about Nicole Chung's life other than that she's the editor-in-chief of Catapult's online literary magazine and she's an amazing writer. I knew she was Korean, but the rest of her life was a complete mystery. So going into this novel, I didn't think it would be the story of a young woman trying to find her birth parents. I didn't know Nicole Chung was adopted or the circumstances of her adoption. It really opened my eyes to something I knew about and knew nothing about at the same time. For the most part, this book is about Nicole Chung's personal journey to finding her birth parents. It starts with how she first came to be adopted, her life after adoption, and what it was like growing up in a predominantly white town. Then it goes into the decision to contact her birth parents, what happened after that, having her first child, and then the relationships she developed with them. I know how it feels to grow up in a predominantly white town. Despite not being adopted, I've been the center of ridicule and torment by my friends who don't understand me. They would pull their eyes back, they'd ask if I can see. They even asked me if I ever eaten dog. Let's not forget that sometimes they don't even know Korea was a country that existed. I also noticed I was the token Asian person in every friend group I've had. From these experiences, I could resonate so much with Nicole Chung. However, I couldn't resonate with her adoption because I wasn't adopted. I grew up with my birth parents. I knew how to speak Korean before I could speak English. I have a lot of traditions so deeply ingrained in me that the moment someone serves birthday cake at a family function, I'm right there doling out plates to the elders of the family first. I wish I could reach into the book and help her out. If she wanted to know more about her heritage, I would volunteer myself for late-night BBQ sessions and even worked together to learn the language better. I believe so strongly that everyone should know where they came from that I wanted to help Nicole Chung in her search for herself. This is what I felt the entire time I was reading. Another component of this book was her motherhood. She was pregnant with her first daughter when she decided to write to her birth parents. At first, the reasons for finding her birth parents made sense. She wanted to get records of her health so that she knows what's being passed down to her kid. But as you find out more about her birth family, you realize it's more than just health records she's after. There's a lot of discussion on motherhood here. It talks a lot about everything from being pregnant, to the actual birth of her kid, and her commitment to her children. I think a lot of expecting and new moms will definitely understand this portion of the book. And then there was the heartbreaker. There was the section of the book where she questioned whether or not her parents really wanted her. You read the reactions of both her mom and dad when she writes to them. You see glimpses of the people they are and the people they were when they decided to give her up for adoption. You also see their lives after being contacted; the feeling of abandonment, the sad realization that she will remain a secret to the rest of her birth family. It was really heartbreaking to read. What I would have loved to see more (and completely unnecessary) is the reactions of her adopted family. From what I can tell, they seemed pretty comfortable with her finding her birth parents when she did. I wanted to know more about their reactions; if they were sad or if they thought this was the end of their daughter's life with them. I know it must be difficult to be a mom who loves her daughter so much, but having that disjointed relationship because her birth mom exists. And that was something I thought a lot about while reading this book. If you were adopted, was your adopted mom your real mom even though your birth mom actually gave you all your physical traits? I think that if someone loves you, they'll do whatever it takes to take care of you and keep you. Despite being born from someone else in a weird set of circumstances, someone picked you up and made the conscience decision to love you no matter what. I think out of everything Nicole Chung went through, the biggest lesson is that she is wanted. Find All You Can Ever Know on Amazon I received a copy of this book from Catapult for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Karen Ng

    Moved me to tears so many times. As an Asian that raised three kids in a predominantly white town. I understand a bit of racism and how difficult it was for my children to find their own identitly, but this book, and her prose, are unique. Brutally honest, yet heart breaking at times.A must- read. She writes eloquently and beautifully. I put her memoir at the same par as The Glass Castle and When Breath Becomes Air.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    There's a lot of ink spilled in the lit-o-sphere over the courage it takes to tell your personal story, so much that it's a kind of cliche. Too bad! I'm going to say it: This story is brave. ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW is a courageous, beautiful book that deserves all the accolades it's going to get. If you've encountered Nicole Chung's writing before, then you know what to expect. If you haven't read one of her essays before, you're in for a treat: Clear, elegant, prose. Beautiful but efficient. No w There's a lot of ink spilled in the lit-o-sphere over the courage it takes to tell your personal story, so much that it's a kind of cliche. Too bad! I'm going to say it: This story is brave. ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW is a courageous, beautiful book that deserves all the accolades it's going to get. If you've encountered Nicole Chung's writing before, then you know what to expect. If you haven't read one of her essays before, you're in for a treat: Clear, elegant, prose. Beautiful but efficient. No words wasted; each and every one important (further testament to Chung's skill as an editor, too). Writing about your family is very, very hard, especially when you know they're going to read what you've written. It's also hard to choose which parts of a complex, nuanced experience to shape into narrative without getting bogged down, and Nicole nails it. The places she dwells (her childhood and her pregnancy & birth story, especially) are rich. I learned a lot, too. There's no "typical" adoption story, but ALL WE CAN EVER KNOW illuminated aspects of the process that had never occurred to me before. I feel so much better prepared to listen to the stories of folks who were and how to not make harmful assumptions. For that, I'm grateful. This is a book I'm going to think about for a long time, and I can't wait to catch Nicole on tour to hear her discuss it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sachi Argabright

    I know I keep saying this about the Asian American debuts I have read this year, but I LOVED this book!! Similar to Julayne Lee’s Not My White Savior, this book taught me so much about Korean adoption and the complex family dynamics in creates. I absolutely loved Nicole’s beautiful writing style, and flew through her story in a matter of days. With a balance of moments that will make you cry and also warm your heart, this book is something you won’t want to pass up! I also want to say that even i I know I keep saying this about the Asian American debuts I have read this year, but I LOVED this book!! Similar to Julayne Lee’s Not My White Savior, this book taught me so much about Korean adoption and the complex family dynamics in creates. I absolutely loved Nicole’s beautiful writing style, and flew through her story in a matter of days. With a balance of moments that will make you cry and also warm your heart, this book is something you won’t want to pass up! I also want to say that even if you’re not an adoptee, this book is for you. Whether you’re an adult seeking out an estranged parent, or simply someone who feels like they’re different from everyone else; this book will speak to you on many levels. As a half Japanese woman who was raised in predominantly white suburban towns, I was able to relate so closely to Nicole’s experience, and I’m so thankful she wrote this honest memoir. I didn’t want it to end!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    This memoir is absolutely stunning. Nicole Chung writes beautifully in a million shades of gray, with nuance, curiosity and so much compassion. This is her story growing up as an adopted Korean-American in a white family and a white community. What shocked and touched me was that she did not judge her white parents for raising her with a colorblind attitude (and thus leaving her vulnerable and unprepared to to the racist bullying she experienced throughout her youth) - she simply recognizes that This memoir is absolutely stunning. Nicole Chung writes beautifully in a million shades of gray, with nuance, curiosity and so much compassion. This is her story growing up as an adopted Korean-American in a white family and a white community. What shocked and touched me was that she did not judge her white parents for raising her with a colorblind attitude (and thus leaving her vulnerable and unprepared to to the racist bullying she experienced throughout her youth) - she simply recognizes that that is how transracial adoption was viewed at that time. I don't want to give away too much of the story of how she reckons with what family means to her, but this memoir touched me deeply and is not to be missed.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Such a poignant and moving book, told in such a way that you'll end every page and stop to think about the way you view yourself, and others, and consider the way you live your life. Identity is something we all struggle with in one way or another and to read such an insightful story as Nicole Chung's is eye-opening and relatable. It's beautifully written and a story that needs to be heard. I'm looking forward to writing a full review of this book shortly.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    Edited: Consistently bowled over throughout this read by the empathy and grace with which it treated each of these real life people who make up its story. Memoirs rarely nail this with such balance, and I sincerely appreciated it. Brought me to tears twice, both moments when someone was surprised to realize how much they needed something. Vivid, softly told, poignant, darkly funny in places, so grateful this book exists, an unforgettable read.

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