Hey everyone! Right out of the gate I want to say that this review will be different than how I normally write my reviews. As you may or may not know, I typically review books based off of the characters, cover, chapter lengths, pacing, and cliche counts because those are the things that really matter to me when I read a book. However, it goes without saying that it’s pretty hard to rate an autobiography based on these factors, because, well, these are real people living real lives. There are no characters or cliche counts, especially regarding a subject so polarizing: politics. I honestly struggled with if/how I wanted to review this book, so in order to keep it short and accessible to all regardless of what your political preferences are, I want to aim this review at the the totally nonpartisan, important topics Michelle covers.
Favorite quotes: “I’ve learned that it’s harder to hate up close.” (270)
“You belong. You matter. I think highly of you.” (384)
“I grew up with a disabled dad in a too-small house with not much money in a starting-to-fail neighborhood, and I also grew up surrounded by love and music in a diverse city in a country where an education can take you far. I had nothing or I had everything. It depends on which way you want to tell it.” (416)
To keep this review concise, I want to talk about three main things that I found important/took away from the book, so here they are.
One of many things that pulled at my heart strings in this book is the epidemic of gun violence in America. I’m not here to preach at you about gun rights, but I am here to tell you that there is a real problem. If you live in this world and pay attention to what happens around you, this should come as no surprise. In the book, Michelle introduces this topic with the horrible Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting that took place on December 14th, 2012, noting that the event caused her and Barack for the first time in their whole presidency to pause their daily schedules and reunite for a moment of solace. Next, she details the senseless death of Hadiya Pendleton, who was a girl in high school with big dreams that were cut short as she was shot in a Chicago public park while waiting out a rainstorm to go home. Then came the absolute epidemic of black men being fatally shot during police stops that plagued the summer of 2015. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Laquan McDonald. Eric Garner. I lived through these shootings. I watched these men become headlines. I watched as the nation fretted over how to spin their stories. I battled through despicable conversations that tried to justify these murders. Witnessing Michelle put it all together as if it were a twisted puzzle brought me to tears. As a black woman on the come up, these stories hurt. And if we do absolutely nothing about the problem of gun violence regardless of race, let’s at least acknowledge that it exists.
One of the reasonsI admired Becoming so much is because Michelle Obama acknowledged that this problem exists.
This issue of the book rung especially true to my heart. I grew up in (and still call home,) a rather small, high desert town in California that most people have never heard of. Of course as you grow older, you gain and change perspectives on aspects of your life that you’ve never considered before. My hometown has not a bad reputation so-to-speak, but it’s also not the place to grow up/live in California. Honestly, I really appreciate Michelle’s narrative about her South Side origins, because it prompted me to step into her shoes and do the same type of reflecting about the city that I grew up in too. So yes, while my city may only have exactly one movie theater, one mall, and countless liquor stores, I’ve also met the most amazing friends, had the most amazing teachers in school who were invested in me, and ultimately, made some of the best memories in my life that I will forever carry with me.
It’s hard to take a step back and appreciate a place when all everyone talks about is their wish to escape it. After reading Becoming and reflecting on this topic, I feel inspired to think of ways to better my hometown community instead of bemoan it. The only regret I have is not realizing such a thing sooner, since I’m now out of state for most of the year for college. But where there is a will, there is a way. I really liked her “I had nothing or I had everything” quote, because it really makes you question your perspective.
Although there are a number of things that I took away from this book, the last deep/thought-provoking/takeaway topic that I want to touch on was this one. If I got absolutely nothing else from Becoming, I was reminded of the absolute humanity of the First Family. And not even just their lives as the First Family, but the absolute chaos of their lives before the White House too. You may say to yourself “well of course I know the presidential family is human!” but I challenge you to think deeply about that assertion. I think it’s easy to look at someone in a position of power and assume that they must have a heart of steel to be in the position they’re in. Surely, you may think, nothing will hurt them. But as I read Michelle’s recount of the absolute anxiety that rocked their worlds as they were waiting for the election results in 2008 and once more in 2012 for the reelection, I felt like a spectator getting the reel of their lives—seeing the highs, the lows, and the middle ground.
I loved reading about Malia passing her drivers test yet having to drive with secret service agents. Or Sasha, when she wanted to go to a sleepover at a friend’s house and it became a huge concern of safety and what agent would accompany her, etc. Not because these are necessarily easy things to deal with as a presidential family, but it was just super interesting to see how being a high-profile person could make little things such as going to a grocery store without being noticed feel like a huge victory. I guess what I’m trying to say is I loved the intimacy that Michelle provides in the book.
I was 8 when the Obamas’ became the First Family, and obviously at 8-years-old I had no concept of what this even meant. I was 16 when the Obamas’ left the White House, and I was just gaining an idea of what we were losing. I wish I felt a greater connection to the First Family while they were still the First Family rather than in retrospect, but regardless, I’m glad to say I feel like I’ve made a connection with the 44th family.
So there ya have it!
There are many, many more things that I could say about Becoming that made it such a special book for me, but I’ll leave it there. Thanks so much for reading if you’ve made it this far, and I will see you all on Tuesday! -Cierra ♥️