Everything I Thought I Knew by Shannon Takaoka

Review by Claudine Yip

Candlewick Press (Penguin Random House), October 2020 

320 pages, hardcover, $23.99 CAD, 978-1-5362-0776-7 

Ages 14+, Grades 8+ 

Young Adult, Magical Realism 

I remember folding myself into the three-way mirror at Macy’s while my mom was busy with zippers and hangers, watching my reflection repeat and repeat and repeat into what seemed like an infinite number of Chloes in an infinite number of dressing rooms. I wondered: Would we all leave the dressing room and go home to the same house, the same parents, the same life? Or would some Chloes take a left when they stepped out of the frame while the rest of us took a right? And then what? How many combinations of lefts, rights, ups, and downs could there possibly be?

Chloe Russell has done the math: perfect grades in AP classes plus excellent extracurriculars to the power of overscheduling and sleep deprivation equals the highest probability to get into a great college. But her calculations don’t include a hard deviation: At the beginning of her senior year, Chloe suddenly collapses on her high school track and must receive a heart transplant.  

Eight months later, Chloe seems to have gained more than just an organ from her donor. Not only has she traded her cross-country runners for a wetsuit and surfboard, but she also begins to recall memories that aren’t her own, and dreams of the same motorcycle accident leading to her death every night. 

A budding scientist since childhood, Chloe’s curiosity and questions about the world around her turn into second guesses about her own existence. With each beat of the new heart, Chloe fears that her thoughts and desires are no longer her own. She discovers the seemingly impossible idea of “cellular memory,” where transplant patients inherit their donor’s interests and memories post-operation.  

Chloe’s isolation and fear of losing herself are compounded by the growing distance between her and her school friends. While they rush and prepare to start at their top college of choice in the fall, Chloe’s listless days in the hospital relegate her to summer school to complete her GED. Contrasted against the life she can no longer catch up to is Chloe’s new penchant for surfing. As she returns to the ocean week after week, the water calms her mind while she tackles mounting waves. Humbled by nature, Chloe no longer needs to compete against anyone, and although the ocean is one of the greatest unknowns on earth, it is bound to her surfboard where she begins to feel like herself again—even if that self is different from who she was pre-operation. Chloe’s identity crisis is complicated by this new hobby that may not even be wholly her own—rather another remnant of her heart’s previous owner—but that she may come to love all the same. 

As Chloe tries to parse out the unexplainable, her first-person point of view and internal monologue fill the novel with intimate introspections and ruminations on how she and the people around her perceive time, memory, and herself. Chloe’s limited perspective allows the reader to empathize with her confusion amidst a puzzle she does not have all the pieces to. What begins as a search for answers becomes a journey for Chloe to reclaim herself, even if it means letting some of the universe’s mysteries go unsolved. 

Shannon Takaoka’s debut novel Everything I Thought I Knew poses a fascinating spectrum of What ifs. What if a new heart could change a person’s personality? What if the dreams you’ve been working towards your whole life lose their appeal? Fans of Emily Henry’s The Love That Split the World or the film Last Christmas will enjoy this book that redefines the impossible and offers its characters the chance to examine their lives and, if needed, encourages them to start again.

Claudine Yip is studying Creative Writing with an Art History minor at UBC. She is currently drafting her way through a YA contemporary novel and sporadically blogs about food as an excuse to post all the pictures she takes at bubble tea shops. Visit her at @cyieat on Instagram and @claudineyip on Twitter. 

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