BOOK REVIEW/WOC MARCH: All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung


For Women’s History Month, I am challenging myself to spend the whole month reading books by women of colour. I will be reviewing the books I particularly enjoyed and will hopefully highlight some picks that myself and other reviewers may have missed!

4/5 stars

Nicole Chung always knew she was adopted, but it wasn’t until she entered grade school in her small Oregon town that she truly realised the ramifications of her parents’ choice when she was confronted on the playground with racist taunts and prodding questions. Adopted at two months old by a white couple, Nicole grew up with a Hungarian last name, a lot of questions from strangers, and a nominal knowledge of her birth family, a Korean immigrant couple who lived just up the road in Seattle.

All You Can Ever Know is a searing exploration of adoption, identity, and Nicole’s experiences tracking down her birth parents while becoming a parent herself. She loves her adoptive parents dearly but struggles to learn about her Korean identity, something her parents more-or-less neglected. Efforts to improve adoptees’ relationships with their birth culture have changed since Chung’s childhood, but if you’re looking for a definitive answer as to whether or not it’s “right” for a white person to adopt a child of colour, Chung’s book won’t have that answer for you. This is a personal narrative and you never lose sight of that–which helps to make this such a strong work.

Chung’s quest to find her birth family is also not a cut-and-dry Hollywood ending. There are touching, beautiful moments of reunion with a long-lost sister, but also a lot of difficult and affecting discussions of why Chung’s parents gave her up while keeping two other children. This was a really intriguing accompaniment to The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler, a fantastic nonfiction work exploring the stories of women forced to give their babies up for adoption before the passing of Roe v. Wade, mostly due to the extreme stigma of being an unwed mother in the 1950s and 1960s. The timelines aren’t an exact matchup–Chung was given up for adoption in 1981–but both are an incredible look at the way our culture looks at adoption, birth parents, and family secrets.

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