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All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir

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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 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. Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography / Longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award / Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, NPR, The Boston Globe, TIME, Newsday, Library Journal, BuzzFeed, Real Simple, Paste Magazine, Chicago Public Library, Seattle Public Library, Goodreads, Shelf Awareness, Electric Literature, and more


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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 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. Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography / Longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award / Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, NPR, The Boston Globe, TIME, Newsday, Library Journal, BuzzFeed, Real Simple, Paste Magazine, Chicago Public Library, Seattle Public Library, Goodreads, Shelf Awareness, Electric Literature, and more

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 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

    Brandice

    All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir is Nicole Chung’s story of adoption and the search for her Korean birth family, when she becomes an expectant mother, about to start her own family. Nicole was adopted by a white couple in Oregon when she was 2 months old. She knew the story of her adoption well, as it was recited to her countless times throughout her childhood and adolescent years. In Oregon, she rarely saw other Asian people and often felt like an outsider. She also dealt with numerous questions All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir is Nicole Chung’s story of adoption and the search for her Korean birth family, when she becomes an expectant mother, about to start her own family. Nicole was adopted by a white couple in Oregon when she was 2 months old. She knew the story of her adoption well, as it was recited to her countless times throughout her childhood and adolescent years. In Oregon, she rarely saw other Asian people and often felt like an outsider. She also dealt with numerous questions about her adoption and being a different race - Some from other kids, who meant no harm but were genuinely curious, while others (both children and adults) were nosy and/or hurtful. Nicole recounts some of these experiences as well as the questions she grew to have about her adoption as she became older. She met her husband, Dan, and her desire to find her birth family grew as she learned she was pregnant, expecting their first child. Much of the story revolves around Nicole’s search, finding her birth family, and her quest to get to know them. ”I wondered how often my birth family talked about me—if they ever prayed for me, or wished for some way to know that I was all right. Suddenly very little seemed to separate us. And maybe that had always been true, especially if they really had cared about me; if they had known me once. As my thoughts reached out to them, all at once I could envision hundreds of gossamer-thin threads of history and love, curiosity and memory, built up slowly across the time and space between us—a web of connections too delicate to be seen or touched, too strong to be completely severed.” All You Can Ever Know is well-written. The tone felt like Nicole was a close friend, confiding in you. She was relatable and honest, and didn’t try to paint a perfect picture. Life is often complicated, and finding her birth family was not quite the image she’d envisioned for so long. Though she clearly needs no validation from me, I felt Nicole’s mixed emotions from curiosity to anger, to sadness and acceptance, were all legitimate. I couldn’t imagine how I’d feel with so many questions swirling in my head about the whole situation. There was so much to ask, to learn, and ultimately, come to terms with. This was a very heartfelt story and one that fully kept my interest.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Understated and contemplative, All You Can Ever Know reflects on the nuances of transracial adoption. In precise prose Nicole Chung, a Korean-American editor, recounts her experience of having been adopted at birth by a white couple based in rural Oregon, and considers the impact her upbringing had on her own efforts to raise a family; at the heart of the memoir is the writer’s quest to search for her birth family upon becoming pregnant with her first child. Across each chapter she thoughtfully Understated and contemplative, All You Can Ever Know reflects on the nuances of transracial adoption. In precise prose Nicole Chung, a Korean-American editor, recounts her experience of having been adopted at birth by a white couple based in rural Oregon, and considers the impact her upbringing had on her own efforts to raise a family; at the heart of the memoir is the writer’s quest to search for her birth family upon becoming pregnant with her first child. Across each chapter she thoughtfully complicates the idea of transracial adoption as being either good or bad, and delves into its complexities, at length exploring how growing up with white parents affected her sense of herself. The work glides over the history of (transracial) adoption in America, but Chung fully renders her own story.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brina

    With the year moving toward its final quarter, I am back to balancing work and reading time. I have been engaged in a nonfiction reading challenge and feel a sense of guilt each time I take a break to read fiction. In the past I used to read mysteries in between denser reads to clear my palette. This year, as mysteries do not “count” in the challenge, I’ve replaced brain teasers with memoirs. I have long felt that by reading biographies and memoirs, one can piece together the workings of With the year moving toward its final quarter, I am back to balancing work and reading time. I have been engaged in a nonfiction reading challenge and feel a sense of guilt each time I take a break to read fiction. In the past I used to read mysteries in between denser reads to clear my palette. This year, as mysteries do not “count” in the challenge, I’ve replaced brain teasers with memoirs. I have long felt that by reading biographies and memoirs, one can piece together the workings of society, one person at a time. Since I was in elementary school, biographies have been a favorite genre for me. I enjoyed escaping into others’ lives when socializing was not high on my priority list. In her debut memoir, I have found a kindred spirit close in age to me in Nicole Chung, who also spent countless hours in her elementary school library, for similar reasons as I did. Chung has written All You Can Ever Know as a gift for her daughters and her niece as this is their story as well, and what a poignant story it is. Nicole, known as Nikki to her closest friends and family, was adopted at two months old. Born ten weeks premature weighing just over two pounds, her parents were told to brace for a life spent taking their daughter to therapy and doctors appointments. The Chungs already struggled financially, having recently brought their six year old daughter Cindy back from living with relatives in Korea. Mrs Chung took all her emotional turmoil out on Cindy, physically and psychologically abusing her, emotionally scarring her for life. Her husband could tell that she was not emotionally suited to be a parent and urged her to give the new baby up to adoption, believing in his heart of hearts that the new baby, who he named In Song, would be given a better life if raised by others. At two months old, Nicole was given to a white, childless couple who had desperately wanted to be parents. The Chungs told Cindy and her older half sister Jessica that the baby had died in the hospital. This was what Cindy and Jessica grew up believing, whereas Nicole was fed the line by her adoptive parents that G-d had wanted her to be their child. The “party line” would suffice for the next twenty seven years. In the 21st century, families come in all shades. Caucasians adopt children from all over the world, and bi and multi-racial couples give birth to children of all colors of the rainbow. In the 1980s, however, international adoption was not as popular as it is today. The Chung family called Seattle home, a city known for a large Asian presence. Despite Cindy’s miserable childhood, at least she was in the company of people who looked like her. Nicole was adopted by a Hungarian- Polish couple from southern Oregon and became the only Asian person in her town. Her parents did not foresee ethnicity becoming an issue, and Nicole grew up devoid of Korean culture, her parents’ Catholic religion replacing any culture she may have had. In school, Nicole was the only Asian, leading to taunts and slurs and solitary hours spent in the school library. By the time she was a teenager, Nicole had an overwhelming need to attend a college where she would not be the only Asian person in the room. She realized that as an Asian American, her experiences could not perfectly mirror those of the average Caucasian American. Nicole also had an inkling that one day she would find her birth family. All You Can Ever Know is Chung’s debut effort, although she has been under the tutelage of stellar writers in her masters program and has written for multiple magazines. Her story is gut wrenching at times, as Nicole has balanced the feelings of her birth and adoptive families while searching to find a place within her newly rediscovered Chung family. As Nicole and Cindy connect and forge a sisterhood and find out what truths and lies their parents told them growing up, I found myself choking back tears. Adoption is a multi faceted issue and touches on many emotions. Nicole has not treaded lightly because she notes that this story is for her two biological daughters and her niece. One can tell, however, that this is a debut as the writing is not as polished as that of a veteran writer. The story is as much of a puzzle as the mysteries that both Nicole and myself enjoyed as kids. As she navigates life in her newly found birth family and as a mother to two precocious daughters, I look forward to reading Chung’s future writing. 3.5 stars

  5. 4 out of 5

    Canadian

    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.

  6. 5 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.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    A moving, gentle memoir about growing up as a Korean American transracial adoptee in a predominantly white small Oregon town. Nicole Chung shares how her childhood experience intersects with her own experience as a new mother, as well as her decision to search for her birth family later on in life. Though I have read snippets here and there about transracial adoption, I feel grateful that Chung wrote a whole book about her adoption given how few full-length narratives exist both from adoptees A moving, gentle memoir about growing up as a Korean American transracial adoptee in a predominantly white small Oregon town. Nicole Chung shares how her childhood experience intersects with her own experience as a new mother, as well as her decision to search for her birth family later on in life. Though I have read snippets here and there about transracial adoption, I feel grateful that Chung wrote a whole book about her adoption given how few full-length narratives exist both from adoptees and from writers of color, much less narratives at the intersection of those identities. I loved this book most when Chung delved into her search for and contact with her birth family. She writes about the complexity and messiness of her emotional experience with such honesty and clarity – how she had idealized her birth parents and how much she wanted them to have wanted her, the disillusionment and joy she stumbled upon throughout her search, and how her search for her birth family both shifted and did not shift how she felt about her adoptive family. I appreciated how she shared about the racism and feelings of isolation she sometimes went through as a child, as well as her journey to reclaim some of her heritage later on in life. It also brought me so much joy to read about her relationship with her sister Cindy; Chung communicated the love and depth of their bond so well. As other reviewers have noted, Chung does not fill this memoir with tons of suspense or big moments of dramatic conflict, so readers who want a more startling or action-packed book may walk way disappointed. Though I sometimes wanted a little more tension earlier on in the book, I appreciated the quiet intensity of All You Can Ever Know, how Chung’s steady self-awareness and clear writing let us into her heart and mind, no over the top literary tricks necessary. I am considering adopting a child or two several years down the road so Chung’s perspective helped me gain clarity surrounding this potential future decision (e.g., being skeptical about the “by adopting this kid I’m giving them a better life” narrative). I feel thankful for her story and look forward to reading more of her work. I would recommend this memoir to those interested in issues of identity, family, and connection, both to ourselves and others.

  8. 5 out of 5

    j e w e l s

    FOUR STARS If you love juicy, crazy memoirs you might wanna skip this one. Nicole Chung has written a quiet reflection of her young life so far and while I didn't find the book exactly riveting, it is nonetheless thought provoking and interesting. Beautifully written and told in a gentle, easy manner, Chung reveals her existential angst that began as an adopted Korean kid growing up in an all white Oregon town. Always so many questions, not enough answers and a sense of not belonging anywhere. FOUR STARS If you love juicy, crazy memoirs you might wanna skip this one. Nicole Chung has written a quiet reflection of her young life so far and while I didn't find the book exactly riveting, it is nonetheless thought provoking and interesting. Beautifully written and told in a gentle, easy manner, Chung reveals her existential angst that began as an adopted Korean kid growing up in an all white Oregon town. Always so many questions, not enough answers and a sense of not belonging anywhere. Years later when she is pregnant with her first child, Chung finds her birth parents and new relationships begin. But, as she states, an adopted child never truly experiences closure. It is always a bumpy past that is handed down to the next generation in both the birth family and the adopted family. An empathetic look at adoption, families, race and society. Read, don't listen to this one. Please don't waste a valuable Audible credit!!! I could not abide the narrator's weirdly "trembling-on the verge of crying" voice. FOR THE WHOLE 4 HOUR BOOK.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Audiobook- library overdrive - read by Janet Song Having recently listened to the audiobook of “Inheritance”, by Dani Shapiro - “All You Can Ever Know”, by Nicole Chung, is a great bookend companion. Both memoirs are reflective moving stories. Both women were searching for the truth. Nicole - born in Korea - adopted by white American parents, shares about her childhood to motherhood. Insightful adoption story -‘cross- racial’ -about the complications of identity- belonging - and ‘searching’ for the Audiobook- library overdrive - read by Janet Song Having recently listened to the audiobook of “Inheritance”, by Dani Shapiro - “All You Can Ever Know”, by Nicole Chung, is a great bookend companion. Both memoirs are reflective moving stories. Both women were searching for the truth. Nicole - born in Korea - adopted by white American parents, shares about her childhood to motherhood. Insightful adoption story -‘cross- racial’ -about the complications of identity- belonging - and ‘searching’ for the birth parents. Sensitive issues - a very worthy read for families - older teens and parents who share similar experiences as Nicole Chung

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Jeffers

    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.

  13. 4 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.

  14. 4 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 **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.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly Dawn

    “They should know they can ask you anything they want about the past, even if the answer is ‘I will tell you when you’re older,’” she said. “And then you have to follow through on that promise.” ———————————————— Adoptive parents and grandparents will find this award-winning memoir especially interesting, albeit unsettling. Nicole Chung shares her own story as well as an eye-opening message regarding adoption. For the child, there is trauma and loss inherent in adoption and international adoption “They should know they can ask you anything they want about the past, even if the answer is ‘I will tell you when you’re older,’” she said. “And then you have to follow through on that promise.” ———————————————— Adoptive parents and grandparents will find this award-winning memoir especially interesting, albeit unsettling. Nicole Chung shares her own story as well as an eye-opening message regarding adoption. For the child, there is trauma and loss inherent in adoption and international adoption that will accompany them the rest of their lives. How can this be, when we love them so? They are such a gift to us! Yet that is OUR story. We must allow room for their stories. We must put their stories ahead of our own. Being an adoptive parent or grandparent involves much joy, but requires an openness to what is best for the child. As the child grows, there are many age-appropriate ways we can lessen the adopted child’s eventual suffering. Although I’m admittedly a little shaken by learning of the depth of loss and trauma that accompany adoption, I’m also grateful to this author for her important message. Nicole also shares her painful experience as a Korean American attending an all white school. This is also eye-opening and sad, but again, good for me to know that a more diverse school district may prove to be a better fit for two of my four precious grandchildren.

  16. 4 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 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.

  17. 4 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Allison McKenzie

    This book was okay. I almost quit within the first few chapters because she seemed almost annoyed at her adopted parents for adopting her. I kept going though and it got slightly better. I understand the point of the book, I’m just not sure I liked her point of view in telling it.

  20. 5 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, 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!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I was eager to read Nicole Chung's memoir -- there has been lots of buzz about this and being Chinese American I thought this would resonate. Growing up in a very white neighborhood of upstate New York, I could relate to Nicole's feeling of alienation and the looks and stares that she got in school or around town. Although I'm not adopted, I remember how strange it felt for my sister and I to be the only Asian kids in our school. Questions like 'why are your eyes like that' or 'how do your I was eager to read Nicole Chung's memoir -- there has been lots of buzz about this and being Chinese American I thought this would resonate. Growing up in a very white neighborhood of upstate New York, I could relate to Nicole's feeling of alienation and the looks and stares that she got in school or around town. Although I'm not adopted, I remember how strange it felt for my sister and I to be the only Asian kids in our school. Questions like 'why are your eyes like that' or 'how do your parents tell you apart' might come across as naive curiosity, but still sting. For Chung, having to also deal with the uncertainty of adoption must have made this even more difficult. However, I felt like this memoir was too angst-ridden. Yes, I understand that adoption carries a psychological burden, but there were times reading this book where I wished I could tell her to just get over it. There so many bigger tragedies in life -- the loss of a spouse, a parent, a child, physical abuse, war, terminal illness -- I could go on and on. Reading this felt like a slog through a 'woe is me' type of story. The one redeeming part of this memoir was finding a sister to love, beautifully written and enjoyable to witness.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    The last few chapters -- the reflective ones -- are the best this book has to offer. They make this a 3, rather than something even less. This story would actually make a better essay than it does a book. The essence could be captured in an essay -- the pain of cross-cultural adoption, the losses experienced, the complicated joys and sorrows of her search and reunion. But there are whole sections of the book that should have been edited out -- the excruciating detail of her pregnancy, her birth The last few chapters -- the reflective ones -- are the best this book has to offer. They make this a 3, rather than something even less. This story would actually make a better essay than it does a book. The essence could be captured in an essay -- the pain of cross-cultural adoption, the losses experienced, the complicated joys and sorrows of her search and reunion. But there are whole sections of the book that should have been edited out -- the excruciating detail of her pregnancy, her birth -- as though she were the only person ever to have experienced these things. They are not the stuff of a memoir, but rather the processing of one's life that belongs in a personal diary. There was just way too much repetition and uninteresting detail about her life, IMHO. I'm kind of at a loss as to why Celeste Ng thought this was such a great book. Not terribly well-written, though the "message" is an important one. As I said -- it could be a powerful and persuasive essay or op-ed or even magazine article -- it has important things to say. But as a book, it made me terribly impatient to be done.

  23. 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.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa Hua

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

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kate ☀️ Olson

    Adoption ~ a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about this week after listening to the @stackspod episode from Wednesday and reading this exceptional memoir. . It’s not a topic I have any personal knowledge about and this is the first nonfiction book I have ever read about it. I’ve read lots of fiction with adoption storylines and I have read articles and talked to people about their experiences with it, but this memoir really solidified for me just how complex adoption can be for everyone involved in Adoption ~ a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about this week after listening to the @stackspod episode from Wednesday and reading this exceptional memoir. . It’s not a topic I have any personal knowledge about and this is the first nonfiction book I have ever read about it. I’ve read lots of fiction with adoption storylines and I have read articles and talked to people about their experiences with it, but this memoir really solidified for me just how complex adoption can be for everyone involved in the process. . “All You Can Ever Know” tells a story that is sad, but not tragic. Hopeful but not happy. Understanding but not forgiving. It’s such a perfect example of the messiness of human relationships in general and is a book I want to recommend to anyone looking for more insight into the impact of adoption, especially adoption across racial lines. . Just like life itself, there is no happy ending tied with a bow. There are questions unanswered and feelings yet to explore. As the author is still a young woman, there is certainly more to her story yet to play out as she mothers her own children into adulthood, and I do hope we get to hear more from Chung as time goes on. . I can’t wait to hear the @stackspod episode dedicated to this book this Wednesday 2/13/19

  26. 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.

  27. 5 out of 5

    RuthAnn

    Recommended This memoir lives up to the hype. The author's telling of her experience of being Asian American and adopted into a white family is so powerful. So much of her story resonated with me (being the only Asian student in my class at school and encountering racism as a child), and I learned a lot from the adoption story parts that were new to me. Although I had my tough moments growing up, at least I had the comfort of knowing my family history and a family that resembled me physically. Recommended This memoir lives up to the hype. The author's telling of her experience of being Asian American and adopted into a white family is so powerful. So much of her story resonated with me (being the only Asian student in my class at school and encountering racism as a child), and I learned a lot from the adoption story parts that were new to me. Although I had my tough moments growing up, at least I had the comfort of knowing my family history and a family that resembled me physically. The memoir is frank and insightful and avoids being maudlin. It can be tough to read at times because the content is difficult, but the challenge is worth it. --- ... adoption has a way of isolating the adoptee. For me, it had always been this way: a wide sea seemed to separate the lone island of my experience from the well-mapped continents on which other people, other families, resided. (63) I know my place in my adoptive family is secure. That is not the same thing as always feeling that I belong. (207)

  28. 4 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.

  29. 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 "...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.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lupita Reads

    One of my all-time favorite memoirs! Nicole Chung's ability to be vulnerable & approach difficult conversations with compassion, empathy & love, within her memoir/life in general, is an example of everything I ever want to be as a Wife, Daughter, Sister, Friend & soon to be Mother. I want/need to fill my life with hard but necessary truths & Nicole’s shown me that it’s totally possible. It’s not easy but it’s totally possible! Definitely read this book!

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