Mental health expert uses profession to craft uplifting coming-of-age story
Fremont, CA – In her debut novel, All I Know (Buckberg Mountain Books, June 11, 2024), Holly C. LaBarbera deftly tells the story of a young woman who overcomes childhood trauma and tragedy to try and build a life with the boy she’s always loved.
LaBarbera, a psychotherapist and professor, uses her extensive knowledge and experience to explore the complexities of romantic relationships as well as those within families and among friends, showing that love comes in many forms, including choosing to love oneself.
About the book: Kai Martin sees her life as a series of concentric circles—her twin brother Kade occupying the center sphere with her, their parents surrounding them in the next, and the Tyler family in the outer loop–a connection Kai plans to make official by someday marrying Josh Tyler. The Martins and Tylers share memorable times together, but under the surface, they are two dysfunctional families struggling with alcoholism, depression, and abuse, all of which leads to a devastating event that knocks Kai off her axis and makes her doubt everything she thought she knew.
Josh is there through it all, and Kai eventually gets the romance she dreamed of, embarking on a life of travel and adventure with the boy she always loved. Yet reality is more complicated than any childhood fantasy, and when painful family patterns are reenacted between them, Kai must decide how much of herself she is willing to sacrifice for Josh. Ultimately, she must confront the heartbreaking truth that as much as we try to help the people we love, we can only truly save ourselves.
Perfect for fans of Ask Again, Yes and Everything I Never Told You, All I Know is a celebration of indomitable spirit and finding faith in oneself.
All I Know
Holly LaBarbera | June 11, 2024 | Buckberg Mountain Books | Women’s Fiction
Paperback | 979-8-9894929-0-9 | $14.99
E-Book | 979-8-9894929-1-6 | $5.99
Holly LaBarbera began her creative writing career with a lightning bolt of inspiration for her first book, the as-yet-unpublished Five Days, followed by All I Know, and is currently revising her third novel. Participating in the Community of Writers Workshop in 2018 significantly contributed to her growth and development as a writer both during her time there and through ongoing connections with other amazing writers who have become critique and accountability partners, both in formal and informal writing groups. Holly is a psychotherapist and an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University’s School of Counseling Psychology, guiding graduate students in becoming licensed therapists.
Holly was born in Hawaii, grew up just north of New York City, and now lives outside of San Francisco. She considers herself equal parts New Yorker and California girl, a loyal fan of the Yankees and the Golden State Warriors. She loves reading and writing and is old-school in both, enjoying the feel of holding a book in her hands and turning actual pages and also doing her part to keep the post office in business by regularly sending handwritten letters and cards, much like her debut novel’s protagonist Kai.
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In an interview, Holly LaBarbera can discuss:
- How her experience as a mental health professional and working with clients similar to the Tylers and Martins helped shape the characters in her book
- The importance of creating a realistic story based on the author’s experience as a mental health expert
- How childhood and family-of-origin experiences impact adult relationships
- The theme of resilience throughout the novel and communicating how to rise above life’s devastations
- The theme of creating meaning in our lives and having faith in both self and others, and how that plays throughout the various characters in her story
Advanced praise for All I Know
“A heartbreaking yet uplifting story of the perils found in all families. LaBarbera deftly shows how childhood wounds and mental health challenges impact adult relationships. Protagonist Kai’s struggles will resonate with readers, as will the resilient human spirit that allows her to find hope, to overcome, and to grow into an ever-better version of herself.
-Robert Dugoni, critically acclaimed New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and #1 Amazon bestselling author of the Tracy Crosswhite police series, which has sold more than 8 million books worldwide and the coming-of-age standalone novel The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell.
“In All I Know, Kai’s heartbreaking journey asks us to confront big questions about family and personal trauma: What happens when the people we love hurt each other? How does that shape our relationships with others and with ourselves? How do we move forward when we can’t forget the past? LaBarbera’s characters are as funny as they are flawed, and I couldn’t look away from their struggles to love each other as much as I loved each of them.”
-Claire Boyles, author of Site Fidelity, 2022 Whiting Award Winner in Fiction and Longlisted for the 2022 PEN America/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collections.
“A tender, thoughtful and heartbreaking story, ALL I KNOW is a snapshot of the inner heart. You will fall in love with Kai, a child struggling to decipher the complicated messages that come our way in route to adulthood. It’s raw, it’s real, and it’s compelling through and through.”
–Lee Kravetz, author of the novel The Last Confessions of Sylvia P. as well as acclaimed nonfiction, Strange Contagion and SuperSurvivors
“All I Know captures one woman’s heart-wrenching journey in coming to terms with her past, the trials of two, close-knit families increasingly caught in the web of addiction, and the ongoing struggle to overcome a heartbreaking loss. At its core, it is also a gripping tale of an epic love rooted in childhood, the quest to overcome mutual demons, and the courage to transcend dependency to embrace the possibilities of a new kind of love reborn of mutual respect, resilience, and humility. Readers will root for Kai (and Josh) every step of the way!”
-Susan Dugan, author of the short story collection, Safe Haven
“All I Know is more than a family drama, more than a love story, though it is also both. It’s a moving novel of picking up the pieces after a family tragedy, contending with loss, talking to ghosts, and fearlessly pursuing love and happiness. Kai Martin, the novel’s heroine, reminds us that true connections can never be broken — not by time, change, or even death. Hopeful and unforgettable.”
–Caroline Kim, author of The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories, which won the 2020 Drue Heinz Prize in Literature, was long listed for both the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize and the Story Prize, and was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award and the Janet Heidinger Award for Fiction
“ALL I KNOW, Holly C LaBarbera’s immersive coming of age tale, explores what happens to young love as it ages. As we follow Kai through tragedy, transformation, and heartbreak, across the US and Europe, the novel reminds us of the joys and sorrows of self-discovery. A book on grief as much as love, ALL I KNOW won my heart and kept me up past bedtime until its final pages.”
-Amy Meyerson, bestselling author of The Bookshop of Yesterdays and The Imperfects
.”..a book that amplifies the great feeling of success at knowing the human spirit is resilient….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 care and great 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.”
“Young members of intertwined families forge a complicated bond in the tense coming-of-age novel All I Know. Early on, the book lingers on one-on-one interactions well, emphasizing its aching inter-family ties…the story is driven by the choices that each of the characters makes, with their complicated family intimacies best established via Kai’s maturing perspective.”
-Foreword Clarion Review
An Interview with
1. Why is this story important to you?
This story is a way for me to honor all the difficult stories I’ve heard from the hundreds of clients I’ve worked with over the years, not to mention the personal experiences of friends and relatives who have been challenged in ways similar to the characters in my book, loved ones who have struggled with depression, addiction, trauma, codependency and grief. I have been inspired by their strength, courage and resilience, and wanted to create a story that shows all of the hardship and sadness and beauty and hope that are a part of life.
I also love a good love story and wanted to write something that was romantic, yet went beyond romantic love to encompass the many forms love takes; exploring the depth of sibling bonds, the power of female friendships, the complexity of parent-child relationships, and the importance of loving oneself.
2. How does your background as a mental health expert inform the character and themes in your book, particularly in relation to the struggles of the Martin and Tyler families?
As a psychotherapist, I spend my days exploring relationships, learning what brings people together, keeps them together, and pulls them apart. I witness brave journeys of self-discovery and the difficult choices we are called upon to make, all of which I hope brings truth to my characters and their journey. I hear stories similar to those I created for the Martin and Tyler families, stories of trauma and suffering, of the ways in which our families of origin influence all our future relationships and the ways in which we move through the world. I also witness people overcoming all of that to become their best selves, as Kai does. Their stories inspired me.
3. Kai and Josh’s relationship is deeply influenced by the experiences they each had as children in their particular families of origin. How common is it that couples are impacted by how they grew up?
Based on my training and experience with the developmental model of couples therapy, Imago therapy, emotionally focused therapy and attachment theory, it is clear to me that couples are commonly (if not always) impacted by their childhood experiences. The ways in which our parents relate to us and to each other leave wounds and unfulfilled needs that we reenact with our adult romantic partners in an attempt to heal and fulfill our needs. The ways in which we moved through our own development or got stuck in one stage or another, influence how deeply and well we can connect with our partner. Kai and Josh exemplify all this.
4. How do you balance the fine line between addressing sensitive mental health topics in your writing while ensuring it resonates with a broader audience?
Characters in this story struggle with mental health issues including addiction, codependency, depression, trauma, grief, and the ways in which our families of origin impact our adult relationships. Almost fifty-three million people in the United States experienced mental illness in 2020, and seventeen million experienced a co-occurring substance use disorder that year; those numbers have quite likely grown since the pandemic. For those who have not experienced a mental health challenge themselves, they likely have been impacted by someone else who has, similar to the way in which Kai is impacted by Kade’s struggle.
However, a primary theme of the book is resilience. Many of the hardships in All I Know stem from mental health issues, but the broader message of the book is about overcoming and rising above whatever difficulties life brings, to which we can all relate.
5. The search for the meaning of life is a significant theme in All I Know. How does Kai grapple with doubts and what role does faith play in her journey of finding the meaning of her life?
At the beginning of the book, Kai is a child who is certain of everything. As she experiences trials and trauma, she begins to doubt everything—her parents, herself, the viability of love and relationships. She comes of age trying to integrate the things she knows with the doubts she has, and cultivate the faith required to move through the world in a meaningful way. This includes both faith in herself and in others, learning not to sacrifice self for others. Empathy, support and deep connections are part of the fuel that powers Kai’s faith, strength and resilience, as it is for most of us.
6. What message do you hope for your readers to take away from All I Know?
This is a story about strength and resilience, rising from devastation to build and rebuild a life, over and over again. It is about the power women contain within themselves that is often buried and needs to be discovered. It reminds the reader of the power of female friendships, which can sometimes be more significant than romantic partners. It explores the heartbreaking truth that as much as we try to help the people we love, we can only truly save ourselves. I hope readers will get a sense of hope, inspiration and empowerment from reading All I Know.
A former award-winning journalist with national exposure, Marissa now oversees the day-to-day operation of the Books Forward author branding and book marketing firm, along with our indie publishing support sister company Books Fluent.
Born and bred in Louisiana, currently living in New Orleans, she has lived and developed a strong base for our company and authors in Chicago and Nashville. Her journalism work has appeared in USA Today, National Geographic and other major publications. She is now interviewed by media on best practices for book marketing.