In a school like Quarry Lane where the majority of students are of Asian descent, it is hard for us to imagine growing up in a household that is separate from our mother tongue and native culture. Nicole Chung’s memoir, All You Can Ever Know, provides a detailed account of her experience as a transracial adoptee. Before reading this book, I overlooked the challenges that came with transracial adoption as I focused on the benefits. After I finished this book, however, I came to understand the complex aspects of transracial adoption, from struggling with one’s identity to searching for birth parents. This memoir was an eye-opening experience for me because I got to experience the honest and raw story of a transracial adoptee.
Adopted by a white family, Chung grew up as the only Korean in a small town in Oregon. Her birth parents were poor at that time and could not afford to take care of her. As I read about her childhood and upbringing, I grew to empathize with Chung’s conflicting feelings about being a transracial adoptee. Whether it was wondering why she was given up or wishing for Caucasian features, the vivid and specific memories of the loneliness she describes helped me comprehend her insecurities as a child.
Although a good portion of the book discusses the troubles that come with being a transracial adoptee, Chung does not intend to suggest that transracial adoption is wrong as she still values her adoptive parent’s love. Carefully written in a nuanced manner, Chung avoids using binary thinking when viewing transracial adoption. By doing so, she helps to inform readers about the potential struggles that they will encounter if they adopt a child of a different race.
Even though I appreciated Chung’s thorough recount of her adoption experience, I wished that Chung used simpler language. In some parts of the text, the long sentences were interspersed with many commas caused the narrative to feel repetitive at times. Sometimes, the writing style and content had this cyclical fashion in which the reader was taken back to the same internal conflict that was not resolved, such as the role of adoptive parents as family members. But I can see how such writing style reflects the recurring thoughts one has about family, identity, and adoption.
In the latter half of the memoir, Chung writes about her quest to find her birth parents during her first pregnancy. Her persistence to find her birth parents was quite inspirational because this action demonstrated her desire to know more about her ancestral roots and family members. However, I felt that the author’s decision to elaborate upon her first pregnancy and being a mom did not quite propel the main story forward. While it is understandable that having her first child motivated her to reconsider what family meant to her, I didn’t get why she had to include unnecessary details about the birthing sessions or clinic appointments. Despite that critique, I still found the ending of the memoir to be enjoyable because the author becomes close with her biological sister, Cindy.
In general, I recommend this book to everyone, because reading about the experiences of a transracial adoptee helps us consider big questions such as ethnicity and family ties.