Tag Archives: adoption

ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW by Nicole Chung

It’s Non-Fiction November, folks! So I read some non-fiction.

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung is a deeply personal memoir about the Korean-American author’s life as an adopted daughter. Born to Korean-American parents in 1980s Seattle, Nicole was given up as a premature baby and adopted by a white couple from a small town in Oregon. She grew up as the only Asian in her whole town, suffering teasing and bullying by those around her who couldn’t accept her being different. As a result, she was shy and insecure, constantly trying to fit in.

When Nicole got to college and was surrounded by other Asians, she started to think more about her identity and what it meant to be Korean. After a few years, she decided to pursue a search for her birth family. When she initially learned that her parents were alive – but not living together – and that she had two sisters, her reticence about hurting her parents and her fear of rejection were both overpowered by her intense curiosity about her birth parents and her roots as a Korean girl. All You Can Ever Know is a detailed, emotional and very clearly written memoir about the experience of tracking down her birth family and what their reunion was like.

I liked All You Can Ever Know a lot. I appreciated the insights into her unique circumstances, including her interactions difficult birth mother and formal, academic father. Chung is so honest and forthright that it’s hard not to get emotionally involved with her story and feel affected by what happened to her. The book is a good look at adoption from the point of the adoptee, with all of the conflicting emotions and identity questions that it raises.

I listened to All You Can Ever Know on audio. It was narrated by Janet Song, who did a decent job with it. Song’s precise, clear delivery mirrored Chung’s writing style, and it was easy to follow. I was surprised that it wasn’t narrated by the author, which I think would have been very powerful.¬†Ultimately, I felt a bit of a remove from the content, knowing that it wasn’t the author herself that I was listening to. I wonder if it was just too personal for Chung, and that she didn’t want her own voice out there talking about her parents and her feelings.

All You Can Ever Know is a short and satisfying read, and I recommend it to anyone interested in adoption, particularly trans-racial adoption.

THE MOTHERS by Jennifer Gilmore


The Mothers by Jennifer Gilmore is a novel about the experience of pursuing domestic adoption. The would-be parents, Jesse and Ramon, are late thirtysomethings who have struggled with cancer and infertility and are now pinning their hopes for becoming parents on the birthmothers who might select them as adoptive parents for their unborn babies. The novel follows the emotional rollercoaster of applying, waiting, and responding to calls from birthmothers – some legit and some not even real – while trying to keep their hopes in check.

This is a book about the longing for parenthood, especially motherhood. Jesse’s innate desire to be a mom, while so many around her flaunt their swollen bellies and wriggling toddlers, is very poignant. Anyone who has undergone infertility will be able to relate to her feelings of loss, jealousy and bitterness. While some reviews have criticized Jesse for being whiny and unlikeable, I thought Jesse was a pretty realistic portrayal of a woman in her position. It’s hard to be happy for others when everyone else seems to have what you want, and can’t get.

It’s also a book about motherhood in general, told through the depiction of Jesse’s own mother (absentee through her childhood),¬† mother-in-law (suffocating and focused solely on her son) and other women (friends, sister, birthmothers, would-be parents) she comes in contact with. “The Mothers” of the title are these recurring women. Jesse is fixated on what it means to be a mother, and on the type of mother she wants to be, especially as compared to the others she knows.

Some reviews have also criticized The Mothers as being more of a memoir than a novel, and for ending abruptly when Jesse and Ramon reached a turning point in their adoption journey. Both are fair points. As a story, it is compelling and addictive (you want to know whether they will get their happy ending), but it is sort of relentless and ultimately unsatisfying given its premature end. Gilmore is a good writer, but doesn’t always get past the “then this happened, then this happened” format of the book.

I think you probably know by now whether The Mothers is for you or not. If the topic interests you, you’ll probably enjoy this book in spite of its flaws. If you can’t see reading a whole book about domestic adoption, then take a pass. I fall into the former camp, and liked this one quite a bit.

THE RED THREAD by Ann Hood


I picked up The Red Thread by Ann Hood because it is about a few subjects that I am always interested in: motherhood, infertility, and adoption (specifically adoption from China). The book centers around Maya, who runs an adoption agency specializing in Chinese adoption based in Providence, RI (another plus for me, because I went to college there). Maya lost her own baby daughter many years earlier, and the adoption work is her attempt at redemption. (She couldn’t save her own daughter, but she can save many others.)

The chapters rotate among several other characters who are each part of a couple applying to adopt a daughter through Maya’s agency. Each couple has a reason for why they have turned to adoption – infertility, fear of passing along a genetic disease, etc. – and the book traces what brought them to the point of choosing adoption through the process of applying for and being matched with a daughter from China. There are also stories spread throughout the book about mothers (and one father) who gave up their daughters in China for adoption. Those are the babies who end up being matched with the couples in Rhode Island.

So, the good: I liked the couples’ stories, and found the stories set in China to be very sad but compelling. Hood’s writing was generally fine, and the depiction of miscarriage, infertility, and loss of children seemed genuine.

The not so good: the stories were a little pat, tying up too neatly at the end. And some of the prose is ridden with cliches. I don’t know that Hood had anything particularly original to say in The Red Thread. Maya herself was a bit hard to believe – on the one hand she was so capable and sympathetic (though she tended to dismiss her clients’ concerns rather than actually help them work through them), and on the other she was a mess. Some of the other couples didn’t really make sense either, especially one where the husband and wives switched positions on adoption simultaneously (why?!). Also, I have friends who have adopted from China, and the process is MUCH more sped up in The Red Thread than in reality. (Hood’s couples got their babies within a year!)

I enjoyed this book mostly because of the subject matter. I don’t recommend it unless you want to learn more about the process of international adoption, and particularly Chinese adoption, or are otherwise interested in the subject matter. Otherwise you may be disappointed with the cliches and somewhat shallow storytelling.