Because I knew so little about our former First Lady, I was really looking forward to reading her autobiography. During the time she and President Obama were campaigning and actually living in the White House, I was up to my eyeballs with a newborn and family life. Politics was not something to which I could devote much time or interest. The much-anticipated “Becoming” by Michelle Obama was released last year and quickly became a bestseller. It is now on pace to become the best-selling memoir of all time. After listening to the fascinating tale, I could easily see why so many people loved it.
Mrs. Obama takes the listener all the way back to the beginning of her own life, and shares all of the best and worst parts that influenced her growth and passions along the way. We learn all about the city she loves, the family and community who love her, and her impressive academic achievements even while struggling to feel good enough throughout her school career. She also shares with us her path of meeting and falling in love with Barack, and their eventual rise to being the first African American couple to live as President and First Lady in Washington, D.C.
What struck me throughout the entire book was how incredibly relatable I found the whole journey to be. I knew Mrs. Obama had working-class roots, but I foolishly assumed that someone from Chicago with two Ivy-League degrees would not have a whole lot in common with myself — a book-worm from Franklin Parish, Louisiana. Seriously, about the only thing Winnsboro has in common with Chicago is that we share the same time zone. But it was more than a little thrilling to find that we shared a lot of experiences and values.
Mrs. Obama’s father was a blue-collar worker, while her mother stayed home to raise their children. (Similar!) Her parents were loving and devoted, and indulged a million questions from their children, always speaking to them as adults. (Similar!) As a child, she successfully negotiated a substitution of peanut butter in lieu of scrambled eggs as her protein source for breakfast. (Same as my 9-year old!)
Of course, there were plenty of topics where our experiences didn’t align, and Mrs. Obama shares her difficulties with the same openness as other aspects of her story. Readers will find many of these experiences just as relatable regardless of background. She graciously lets the reader in on the heartbreaking feeling of watching her father’s health decline over the course of many years while living with Multiple Sclerosis. Later in adulthood, she and President Obama struggled with infertility and miscarriage, another heartbreaking hardship that affects so many more average Americans than many realize.
The experience of campaigning with her husband for president was another totally foreign but completely captivating one to learn about. Although we all know the outcome and watched as she and President Obama presided over the White House for 8 years, the recounting of her perspective throughout all of it never felt predictable. Listeners can easily hear the apprehension in her voice as she admitted that politics wasn’t her first choice for her husband’s career. We feel with her the overwhelming nature of a grueling schedule during the campaign for first the Democratic nomination and then the Presidency. You understand fully the emotion she carries with her as she finds her family whisked into the day-to-day life of occupying the massive home that is the White House. We come to empathize with her efforts to maintain as much “normalcy” as is humanly possible for their two children while all of this is taking place around them.
All told, it’s a breathtaking story of a woman who has seen and experienced far more than she ever dreamed possible. The girl from the South Side of Chicago has so much in common with women all across America, and if you’re not one of millions of Americans to have read her instant classic, I highly recommend it. Her relatable journey, worries, and optimism are a fascinating story from which we can all learn.
In this instance, you may want to choose the audio version over the physical book. The experience is much more authentic to hear it in the author’s own voice.
Hardcover Book: AMAZON, BARNES & NOBLE, TARGET, WALMART, BOOKS-A-MILLION, APPLE BOOKS, INDIEBOUND
Book Club Reading Guide: Download as a pdf from becomingmichelleobama.com
About the reviewer: Danielle Williamson Richard is a graphic designer, owner of Richard Creative, and the art director of Lola Magazine. She is all about organizing and creating, and has been a book nerd her whole life. Audiobooks and podcasts have become a near-obsession in her adult life, as listening while doing mundane chores makes for a much happier mama. Danielle is the mother of two exceptional children, and spends her days managing Richard Creative with her husband, James.