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All You Can Ever Know

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  18,523 ratings  ·  2,411 reviews
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
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published October 2nd 2018 by Catapult
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Dorothy Young no. it is honest about the authors experience and questions and search. she doesn’t gloss over the hard part of growing up as a transracial adoptee. s…moreno. it is honest about the authors experience and questions and search. she doesn’t gloss over the hard part of growing up as a transracial adoptee. she is clear about her love for her adoptive parents but she also doesn’t glorify adoption as what saved her. (less)

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Average rating 3.85  · 
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 ·  18,523 ratings  ·  2,411 reviews

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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-- ...more
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.
Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Hello. Give me one moment...looking for my soapbox so I can take a big ol step onto that bad boy.

Got it. Okay.


Stories like Nicole Chung's are so goddamn important.

I grew up in a majority-white community where many of the Asian people I knew were adopted by white families. As we got older, I witnessed friends of mine struggle and reckon with growing up severed from their birth culture, mostly by well-intentioned and loving families who either didn't try to help their children connect with t
Oct 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
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 ...more
Sep 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Feb 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 an ...more
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 ...more
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
j e w e l s
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio

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. Ye
R.O. Kwon
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Sep 24, 2018 rated it liked it
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 the Portland, Oregon area. 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 ...more
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,
Oct 02, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Karen Geiger
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library-book
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.
Allison Stowe
Nov 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
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.
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 Korea
Kimberly Dawn
Sep 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
“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 th
Apr 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: arcs, memoir
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 paren ...more
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
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
Nov 11, 2018 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Vanessa Hua
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Powerful, deeply affecting memoir about love, longing, belonging, and family. An unforgettable debut.
Traci at The Stacks
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
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.
Kate Olson
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 21, 2019 rated it really liked it

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. Th
Betsy Scherer
Baffled this has a high overall Goodreads rating and reviews. I mean this is in the nicest way but it is an absolute snoozefest. All You Can Ever Know should have been a five-page essay - no more was needed!

I felt like 95% of this book was filler and ultimately unnecessary to her overall story. It also bothered me she didn't really have a thesis... At the start, it seemed like she had an opinion on adoptions but that tapered off and felt really unfinished. Nicole herself also bothered me. She w
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
"'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
Jun 13, 2018 added it
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.
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Nicole Chung has written for The New York Times, the Guardian, GQ, TIME, Longreads, The Cut, and Vulture, among others. She is the editor in chief of Catapult magazine and the former managing editor of The Toast. All You Can Ever Know is her first book. Find her on Twitter at @nicolesjchung. ...more

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“To be a hero, I thought, you had to be beautiful and adored. To be beautiful and adored, you had to be white. That there were millions of Asian girls like me out there in the world, starring in their own dramas large and small, had not yet occurred to me, as I had neither lived nor seen it.” 11 likes
“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.” 9 likes
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