Becoming is one of the most anticipated books of 2018. Millions of people preordered and waited anxiously for its release. I’m one of those people, but I had to resist the temptation to devour the book when it first appeared on my e-reader because I wanted to time my review for either Black History Month or Women’s History Month. Obviously, Black History Month won.
I didn’t know what to expect, but from the opening page, I was drawn in by Mrs. Obama’s intimate conversational tone. It might partially be because she and I are similar in age, but so many things about being born in the 60’s, growing up and attending school in the 70’s, dating in the 80’s, and trying to balance a career and marriage spoke to me.
I grew up in modest suburbs first in Indiana and then in Florida while she grew up in the city of Chicago. My father died of terminal bone cancer at 49 and her father succumbed to a long battle with Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 55.
We worried about many of the same things. We read too much and interacted with other children less than we should. I was also close to my older brother. But our similarities end when race enters the picture. My greatest concern was growing up female in a male dominated world. I naively thought education was the great equalizer. It was not. I never had to worry about not being accepted because of the color of my skin and I never had to worry about going into a store and being watched like a criminal.
I wish a book like this had been around when I was a young teen. Mrs. Obama’s observations about inequality and opportunity could have been game changers for me and other girls my age. I must admit I didn’t think much about race growing up. I just assumed everyone wanted to be nice and life was fair if you worked hard and followed the rules. I could have used Mrs. Obama’s strength of character and belief in her own abilities. It might have helped me realize I didn’t need a boyfriend to be accepted or considered pretty. It might have helped me follow my own dreams instead of throwing them away when they became inconvenient.
She is unflinchingly honest about falling in love with her husband and finding a meaningful career versus staying in an unsatisfying, but lucrative one. She’s also honest about working on her relationships. She speaks of the difficulties of her long distance relationship with Mr. Obama while she worked in Chicago and he finished law school in Cambridge. She admits that a strong marriage is a lot of work and no matter how “fairytale” your romance/ marriage/ life seems to outsiders it does not come free of challenges.
Mrs. Obama writes candidly about her miscarriage and conceiving both her daughters through IVF. She also talks about the challenges of campaigning, public life, supporting her husband in his meteoric rise in politics, and his 2008 and 2012 presidential victories.
She describes how it felt to walk into the White House realizing it would be her home for the next four -eight years and the sense of stewardship she felt caring for America’s house. Also, there were the frustrations of not being able to open a window in the White House to enjoy a summer breeze.
She opens up about having to uproot her daughters and defining her role as First Lady while her family endured racist comments and taunts. She also addresses her mixed emotions as she left the White House to begin a new chapter of her life.
I don’t pretend to fully understand Mrs. Obama’s experiences or the specific challenges she still faces as a woman of color, but reading this book makes me more aware of them and it makes me want to try to be more understanding and that’s the best I can do.
There’s so much more I could mention, but you should read this book for yourselves. Don’t read it a Democrat or a Republican or a Libertarian- read it as a human being and get to know another exceptional human being.