Review: All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

Title: All You Can Ever Know
Author: Nicole Chung
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: After being born severely premature, Nicole Chung was placed up for adoption by her birth parents and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town, her adoption a comforting story of familial sacrifice and God’s will. But as she grew up—facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see, finding her identity as an Asian American and as a writer, becoming ever more curious about where she came from—Chung wondered if the comforting adoption story she’d been told all her life was the whole truth. With warmth, candor, and startling insight, All You Can Ever Know is a profound, moving chronicle of surprising connections and the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets.


When I was young, my family’s view of adoption as identity trump card—more powerful than blood, or appearance, or the bigotry I encountered—made it nearly impossible to imagine, let alone talk about, a future reunion with my birth family. I always understood that my parents didn’t want me to search. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say I understood that they didn’t want me to want to search. I was enough for them, and they wanted to be enough for me.

All You Can Ever Know is one of those books you see and think “why?” Why does this person think that their story is worth telling? And why should I care? Nicole Chung was not a name with which I was familiar before reading her debut memoir, but I’m happy to have stumbled onto her work. Her book is a beautifully written exploration of life as a Korean-American adoptee; as an only-child discovering her past, a young woman her future, and a soon-to-be mother her place.

Chung splits the book into four loose parts—childhood, pregnancy, post-partum, and after—but each weaves around and through the others, connecting in multiple spots and inching the story back toward itself. What Chung learns about her birth family answers as many questions as it poses, the information confirming and validating her adolescent self-doubt as much as it creates more “what ifs?” over which she obsesses.

Chung cannot speak to everyone who’s ever been adopted (nor should she), but her doubts and fears and emotional yearning are universal. Who hasn’t felt out of place among their peers? Hasn’t wished for a different family or a different life? There are no easy answers in this book, but I enjoyed the malleability of it all, the idea that even Chung herself didn’t write this to really solve anything. She may have started on a journey to find her birth parents, but that’s not where the book stops. All You Can Ever Know is a meditation on identity, on family, and on self. It’s powerful, vulnerable, and sad, but also funny and warm, too.

In the very last line of the book, Chung says, “Let’s start at the beginning.” Although it’s meant literally, I know the meaning is two-fold. Because endings always lead to other beginnings, and each new beginning always makes its way to an eventual end.

Top Fourteen: Books on My Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme was books on my spring TBR.

Whittling down my TBR is so hard. Like, on one hand, it helps me keep organized and know (roughly) which reviews I’ll be posting… but on the other, new books inevitably come out that aren’t on my list but which I really want to read!

† = ARC
* = Year of Asian Reading

All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir* by Nicole Chung
Bloom by Kevin Panetta
The Clockwork Ghost by Laura Ruby
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich
The Graybar Hotel: Stories by Curtis Dawkins

Internment* by Samira Ahmed
The Library of Ever† by Zeno Alexander
Origin by Dan Brown
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
Star-Crossed † by Minnie Drake

Technically, You Started It † by Lana Wood Johnson
This Is Not a Love Scene † by S.C. Megale
The Unhoneymooners † by Christina Lauren
Woman World * by Aminder Dhaliwal

Month in Review: December 2018


Favorite Media

Botched is one of the few shows I can stand to watch with commercials, but for some reason, I also thought it ended in 2015?? Idk. E! broadcast all of the previous episodes in preparation for season five, and I was in a happy couch-watching state for the better part of two weeks catching up on the two seasons I’d missed.

Even though I’ve never read the books (nor want to) AND watched the show since it first premiered, none of the previous Outlander seasons have been must-see TV before now. I honestly don’t know what it is that makes me choose it over other shows, but I watch enthralled for a full hour and then practically salivate until Sundays.

Stuff I Added to My Queue

I have no idea where I first heard about Anjali Sachdeva’s All the Names They Used for God, but the stories within sound just slightly off that I think I’ll dig ’em. (It also has over four stars???)

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung is getting All. The. Hype. and I am Here. For. It.

Joyce Carol Oates’ latest, Hazards of Time Travel, doesn’t have the greatest reviews, but I enjoy her writing and it’s also about time travel so…. 🤷‍♀️

I feel like How to Date Men When You Hate Men by Blythe Roberson just kind of like speaks to me on a spiritual level because sometimes men are just so UGH that I can’t even deal with their bullshit. But then they’re like OMG YES and I can.

Sometimes I just want to forget that the 2016 election happened and, instead, be lulled to sleep by a 500-page oral history on the eight years Obama spent in the White House. (Brian Abrams coming in for the clutch!)

On a Sunbeam initially debuted as a webcomic, but Tillie Walden heard our prayers and let me lounge and read without having to deal with WiFi or scrolling or clicking.

Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick: And Other Essays is a (yet another) book that lulled me in by its cover, but I’m also pretty sure the poignant take on race and pop culture will keep me deliciously full.

On My Radar

  • The final season of Game of Thrones drops in April, and I low-key kind of want to rewatch seasons one through seven to like mentally prepare myself for the end. (But will this also make me more emotional???) I really only bring this up because if I want to do it, I need to start real soon and I am not at all ready.
  • I am trying to read for ~30 minutes per day (see my 2019 goals!), but the amount of good shows coming back in January is going to seriously test my ability to pay attention to anything textual: True DetectiveThe Magicians!! Brooklyn Nine-Nine!! UGH NOT FAIR

What were YOU up to in December? Let me know!