All You Can Ever Know

All You Can Ever Know

A Memoir

Book - 2018
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Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. She was told her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope of giving her a better life, that forever feeling slightly out of place was her fate as a transracial adoptee. But Nicole grew up facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn't see, and wondered if the story she'd been told was the whole truth. Here Chung tells of her search for the people who gave her up, and chronicles the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets. -- adapted from jacket
Publisher: New York : Catapult, 2018
Copyright Date: ©2018
ISBN: 9781936787975
Characteristics: 225 pages ; 24 cm


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Apr 24, 2020

Wow. Something I didn’t think I’d ever be slightly interested in and couldn’t put it down. (Well, that’s not completely true. The end kind of drags.) You read to expand your perspective and to understand what it’s like in someone else’s shoes. This does that. And so much more. So well written that everything else I’ve read that I thought was well-written wasn’t in comparison. It’s perfectly on the line of painful and joyful, not cloying, not feel-sorry-for-myself, not smart, not selfish, nothing but perfectly balanced storytelling.

Adoption from the perspective of the adoptee - and you didn’t really know what that felt like until this, unless you’re really good at empathy or lived it yourself. It’s the adoptee who always thinks, “What did I do to be rejected by my birth family?” And yet, a baby can’t have done anything, right? Except being the wrong sex, the wrong birth order, nothing that is the baby’s fault. Yet the guilt and the shame ruins the lives of people adopted into even perfect loving families. The people in the author’s story are so well-rounded and interesting, and probably not in real life, but they’ve stayed with me even now.

I would read anything this author wrote, no matter what she writes about - she’s got it.

Apr 18, 2019

What a thoughtful and thought provoking book on being adopted by parents who don’t share your racial identity.

Feb 09, 2019

I had a hard time getting into this memoir. It's not that I don't know adoptees, even transracial ones. But the beginning just didn't catch my interest, in spite of Nicole's obvious writing skill, and the issues she had to deal with. Until she started school, she was wrapped in a cocoon of her adoptive parents' love, even though in her small Oregon town hers was the only Korean face. Her parents made no secret of her status as an adoptee. But when she began school--a Catholic school, yet--she was hassled and bullied on the playground, and as much as her classmates could get away with, even in the classroom. For some reason, the attorney handling the adoption didn't warn her parents about this issue, so they just told her to ignore it. Ignoring it was pretty hard to do. She was fairly obsessed from an early age at knowing who her other family was, but didn't actively search until she and her white husband were expecting their first child, in their late 20s. The conjunction of the birth of Abigail and learning the basics of her family was mind-blowing, especially as they weren't at all what she expected. This is the point at which the book became, for me, a real page turner. I'm not adopted, but I think almost anyone could identify with the issues she brings up, especially these days. We all think to some degree of our own and others' identity, especially racial identity, immigration, what it means to be family, chosen or biological. Nicole chooses to continue to belong to the family that chose her all those years before, and can't help but to choose some of her biological family who are so much like her and influence her so much as adults. They'll never know everything about the missing years, but they choose a future together, including to raise their children as cousins.

Feb 05, 2019

A Korean author writes about her experience being adopted by white parents and raised in a small town in the Pacific Northwest and her decision to search for her birth family as an adult.

This was a moving story and Chung is very honest about the good and bad of her experience. Thankfully we have a greater understanding of the issues involved in cross-cultural adoption, and I think most people enter it more mindfully today. I also loved how she talked about the importance of the stories that we tell, and how the adoption narrative she was told shaped her understanding of herself.

Dec 27, 2018

Korean woman, adopted shortly after her premature birth by a white American couple, never feels like she's quite in the right place. Her thoughtful, almost-obsessive musings on the ways and times she's aware of this move through her search for information about why she was given away. Not a happy-ever-after story but one that makes me reconsider the adoptions in my family.

Dec 24, 2018

It took me a long time to get "into" this book. The first third felt like it wandered too much and was not as focused as I had wished.

But I found it a very powerful read. It is the story of a child born of Korean parents who gave birth to her in the U.S. and gave her up for adoption. Her birth parents already had two other daughters and worked long hours. As we learn later, the birth mother probably had mental health issues.

The author was raised in a smaller town in NW Oregon, where she was the only Asian-looking child. She felt out of place and was taunted. I great up a generation earlier and for elementary school I was the only Jewish child in any of my classes. I felt out of place and was relieved when we moved and I entered junior high school and found at least 5-7 Jewish children in my classes. It was a relief to not always explain myself. However, I did not suffer the taunts that Nicole did. Her parents were very loving but they had no idea that their daughter was harassed.

Yes, she had much more of a loving family and childhood than what she would have had with her birth family, but the book clearly showed her angst at being physically different.

The book is about her coming to terms with her background and connecting with a biological sister who is now one of her best friends.

Dec 21, 2018

I'm feeling charitable today so this is three stars, although I felt the author was too whiny, whiny, whiny, although I admit to being biased: those of us who grew up in orphanages tend to look askance at adopted types who embrace victimhood.
Be thankful you grew up in a stable home environ instead of an institution, for goodness sakes!
Given what we learn at the end of this memoir, Ms. Chung appears lucky she didn't grow up tended by her birth mother, and the fact that her biological family has a multi-volume family history going back 17 generations and 500 years was a unique gift to her.

TSCPL_Miranda Dec 02, 2018

Insightful and beautifully written. Chung is a Korean American who was adopted and raised by white parents, in a community with little racial diversity. Her story is at times heartbreaking. I cried to read about a little girl looking in the mirror and wishing that she looked like everyone else. It's also incredibly moving and hopeful, and gives a fair, compassionate portrait of the many people who are a part of her story. I would like to share my own family story someday, and I found a lot of inspiration here for how to go about it. I'm positive that this is one that I'll revisit and read again.

Dec 02, 2018

I’m sorry... I wanted to like this book but I just couldn’t. It was tedious, repetitive and longer than it needed to be. The author’s continual self-doubt was just tiresome to read.

SPL_Shauna Nov 28, 2018

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SPL_Shauna Nov 28, 2018

Many will know Nicole Chung’s writing from Buzzfeed, Hazlitt and The Toast. All You Can Ever Know is her first book, and it’s a beautiful memoir that explores the extraordinary registers of everyday life.

Born in 1981 to a Korean family in Seattle, Chung was adopted weeks later into a white family who made a life in rural Oregon. Chung was fiercely loved by her family, who felt it was their calling to have her in their lives. But, the town where they lived was overwhelmingly white; Chung encountered both subtle and forthright racism growing up, which her white family was ill-equipped to help navigate. And, as Chung grew up, she found the simplified narrative of adoption told by her family, and expected by others who asked, didn’t match the nuances of her own experience.

As Chung’s own pregnancy progresses, she feels compelled to find out more about her birth family. Where before she felt alienated by the lack of nuance with which others understood her experience as a Korean adoptee into a white family, she suddenly finds herself working to understand the dynamics driving her birth family’s own decisions. She parses this as she confronts new motherhood, attempting to understand the choice of adoption while holding an infant from whom she cannot fathom separation.

Written with clarity, empathy and passion, All You Can Ever Know tells a story many people live each day in a way most of us have never heard before. It’s highly recommended to any fans of motherhood or adoption memoirs.


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