All I Know by Holly LaBarbera follows the early to midlife of Kai Martin, beginning when she is nine years old. Her idyllic life starts to upend in front of her eyes as she starts to observe and understand what is happening around her. Kai learns how to navigate life, with and without those she loves, as she experiences trauma - some inflicted on her and some as effects of her own decisions. Will she learn to love herself as she is? Will she triumph over trauma or be trampled by it? Reader beware: feel good book, this is not.
The author provides a trigger warning and advises the reader to take care of themselves while reading before the book begins. This alone helps the reader determine if they are up for tagging along on the ride that is Kai Martin’s life. Depending on the mental health and self-assurance of the reader, this book may not be for everyone. It would be a fallacy to assume that there is a single person in the world that has not experienced some degree of trauma at some point of their life. That being said, it is not helpful or encouraged to compare traumas, and as such, there is a real possibility any given reader should not read this book. However, if one has experienced trauma and has grown and healed from it, this may well be a book that amplifies the great feeling of success at knowing the human spirit is resilient. If one is in the throes of trauma, this may also be a helpful book to remind how resilient the human spirit is, encouraging one to persevere and come out healthy on the other side. The danger would be if this book re-traumatizes the reader by dredging up issues not properly dealt with.
The plot of this book is well developed, and even though a span of many years is covered in Kai’s life, it is done well and does not leave the reader feeling lost or confused about events that led Kai to where she is at that point of time. There are many different difficult situations Kai goes through, some of which include child abuse, alcoholism in the family, unhealthy romantic relationships, and unhealthy sexual relationships - some almost bordering on assault. Kai faces many difficult decisions along with and separate from the difficult dynamics. The author does a brilliant job at explaining how and why Kai makes the decisions she makes, and even if the reader would choose a different path, Kai’s point of view is understandable.
The characters are very well developed with great care and depth. Not only are the characters well developed, the feeling the reader gets of family in the book is also deep. When some of the family - real or chosen - are not there, the reader feels the void. It is also clear without being said, that each character has different coping skills, most of which are unhealthy such as avoidance and repression.
The setting varies often, and it is done in a way that helps the reader feel they are there, which is a great compliment given how many settings are visited. The author writes in a unique way, using different styles to convey the message she wants to send.
I have experienced or witnessed most of the traumatic themes in this book, and if I haven’t, my friends or family have. I feel I have dealt with, healed and grown from my traumas, and yet, I must admit I was triggered by a few scenarios in this book. I took a pause and put it away, but ultimately came back to cheer for Kai, to see if she has the fighting spirit she thinks she does and I know every human does. If you start it, you will want to finish it, but please do take care of yourself while reading.