I’ve always been fascinated by adoption, from all perspectives: the adoptive parents, the adopted child, the biological parents. It’s such a deeply emotional process from all angles, and hearing about Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir (Catapult, 2018) from another book blogger sent me running to hit the ‘Want to Read’ button on Goodreads. Luckily, my library had a copy. (I love my library. Have I ever mentioned that before?)
Nicole Chung always knew she was adopted. It’s not like she could hide it, being the Korean child of two white parents. Growing up, her parents told her the story of her adoption anytime she asked: Nicole was born premature and her first parents, new immigrants to the country, couldn’t afford the medical bills and placed her for adoption. Within days, Nicole was home with her new family, who adored her and treasured her and, in their words, weren’t prepared for a child as intense and studious as she was. Growing up in a white family, in a white school, in a very white town, was harder than she let on to her parents; she experienced racism and bullying from a young age, even within her own extended family, but she stayed quiet about it, not wanting to upset her parents, who tried hard but could never fully understand.
It wasn’t until she became pregnant with her first child that Nicole decided to reach out and begin searching for the family who had placed her for adoption, and what she found went far beyond than the story she and her parents had accepted as truth. What follows after she finds her family is far deeper, far more painful and beautiful than she’d been expecting. There are no happy endings or neatly wrapped conclusions, just a sense of both sadness and wonder at the emotional intensity of what adoption and family truly are.
This book is an absolute must-read for anyone who has adopted internationally, adopted a child of a racial background different from their own, or who is considering doing so. Ms. Chung doesn’t hold back when it comes to her feelings on growing up the only Asian face in a sea of whiteness, and I learned so much from her experiences (mostly about how horrible kids- and adults! ADULTS, WTF- can be). The things people would say around her, even her own family members, are shocking and appalling (and sadly, not hugely different from things I’ve heard from some family members. I’m usually quick to call it out, although I still feel bad about one conversation I didn’t get a chance to burst into like the Kool-Aid Man last Christmas- maybe two Christmases ago?- when I was distracted by my daughter). Even those who have been touched by domestic adoption will find this memoir enlightening. My sister-in-law, herself an adoptive parent, has said many times in regards to adopting her son, “The best day of your life is the worst day of theirs,” meaning you’re gaining a longed-for child, when the child is losing their birth family, their culture, their language, their history, and everything else that can be lost when someone leaves one family and joins another. Ms. Chung touches on every single one of these points and shows how they affected her both growing up and as an adult.
This is a moving, raw, painful, yet still joyful memoir, full of discovery and wonder, healing and grief, written with such honesty that I felt every single word. I deeply admire anyone who can bring their wounds to the sunlight in such a beautiful and heartfelt manner as Ms. Chung has. All You Can Ever Know is crammed full of just about every emotion you can imagine, from sorrow to joy to anger, catharsis in literary form even if adoption isn’t part of your own story. I know that I still have so much to learn, but I feel like this helped me understand at least a little more about the ways that adoptees can struggle (and not all do, as Ms. Chung is quick to point out) with not resembling their parents and not knowing the entirety of their backgrounds and their biological family’s stories.
Have you read this? Has adoption touched your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this book and this topic, and if you’ve read other books like it.
(And once again, my apologies if this review isn’t up to my usual standards. My daughter has been sick AGAIN- third time since the last weekend in March- and the doctor diagnosed her with a sinus infection on Monday. She’s on meds and on the mend, but after a week of wiping her never-ending river of snot and catching her coughed-so-hard-she-threw-up vomit in my hands, I’m sick as well. #momlife)