All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir

All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir

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...

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Title:All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir
Author:Nicole Chung
Rating:
Edition Language:English

All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir Reviews

  • 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.

  • Vanessa Hua

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

  • Lupita Reads

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

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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

    (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

    (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.

  • 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.

  • Monica Kim

    **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.

  • 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.

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