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Review: All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

By Curlygeek04 @curlygeek04

I really appreciated this memoir by Nicole Chung about her adoption and the search for her birth family. It was particularly interesting to read about her personal struggles as a child being of Korean descent in a white family and a mostly white town. It made me think about the complexity of identity, and the things most of us never have to deal with. For example, I may have experienced bullying as a child, and I certainly struggled with self-esteem, but as a white child, I never had to deal with racial slurs that, as Chung points out, aren’t just about what you’re wearing or what your hair looks like, they go to the very heart of who you are.

I lived through adventures pored over at the big wooden table behind the card catalog, through characters I considered friends—from Ramona Quimby and Sara Crewe to Meg Murry and Anne Shirley. But as much as I loved these spunky literary heroines, they too were all white, and I couldn’t see how I would ever find my way into lives like theirs.

And, as I know a number of people who have adopted children of other races, I was particularly interested in what Chung’s parents did and didn’t do to support her. Clearly they were loving, thoughtful parents, and it would have been difficult for Chung no matter what. And it seems to me we talk a lot more today than we did years ago about helping adopted children explore and honor their ethnic heritage. This book will bring home why that’s so important.

It feels like my duty as my white family’s de facto Asian ambassador to remind them that I am not white, that we do experience this country in different ways because of it, that many people still know oppression far more insidious and harmful than anything I’ve ever faced. Every time I do this, I am breaching the sacred pact of our family, our once-shared belief that my race is irrelevant in the presence of their love. But withholding hard truths and my honest opinions would also sell short the love I have for them, and they for me.

I appreciated the complexity of Chung’s story. There are no easy answers, no clear right or wrong. Chung begins her memoir by talking about the simple story her adopted parents wanted her to know: that her birth parents couldn’t take care of her medical needs and did what was best for her because they loved her. The reality turns out to be so much more complicated. But it seems like the right thing to raise a young child with a simple, positive story, and her adopted parents never knew most of the details. She had to find that information on her own.

As with many memoirs, the writing drags a bit at times and you only get the author’s side of the story. But all in all, this was a fascinating book about adoption, racial/cultural identity, and the meaning of family.

Note: I read this book for the Doing Dewey Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

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