All You Can Ever Know

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

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 the same warmth, candor, and startling insight that has made her a beloved voice, 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.

Author: Nicole Chung | Publisher: Catapult

Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble

Rating: 4/5

“Family lore given to us as children has such hold over us, such staying power. It can form the bedrock of another kind of faith, one to rival any religion, informing our beliefs about ourselves, and our families, and our place in the world.” 

All You Can Ever Know is Girls’ Night In Club‘s February book pick, and I really enjoyed it. I listened to the audiobook, which was well narrated. Nicole Chung is a good writer, and her storytelling sheds light on experiences that many people do not often see or understand.

Chung was adopted shortly after she was born. Her Korean parents said that the medical bills resulting from her premature birth would be too much for them to bear, so they wanted to give her a better life. The parents who raised Chung were kind, loving, and wonderful. However, they were not Korean, and they had no idea how big a difference that would make for a child growing up in almost-all-white Oregon.

Chung’s childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood as not just an adopted child, but also a non-white adopted child, were full of both love and strife. She had often wondered about her birth family but never sought them out. By the time she was ready to become a mother herself, though, she decided it was time — if only to have access to her (and her child’s) full medical history. The result was more complicated and more emotional than she had imagined.

Memoirs like this are why I love reading memoirs so much; I have no experience with any of this, but I could try to imagine what it must like to be an adopted daughter, and I could try to imagine what it must be like to look different from everyone around you growing up, but I would never have even thought to try to imagine what it might be like to have both of those experiences at once, intertwined. Which is wild to me, because of course many adopted children in the US come from other countries.

Chung does a beautiful job of weaving her story into an arc that not only puts you in her shoes, but also makes you look out through her eyes.

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