Becoming is the hottest book on the market right now. It’s listed as Amazon’s number one best selling book, as well as the number one selling book in the Law, Lawyers & Judges and African-American and Black literature categories. With over 7,800 reviews, this book is a hot topic! I was/am a little bit apprehensive about reviewing this book because it is such a political hot button. Many of the reviews reflect the reviewer’s political views rather than the book itself, which can be frustrating for reader’s wanting to know about the book itself. My review is strictly on the reader’s experience and not my politics, beliefs or opinion of the Obamas.
Becoming is written in three parts. The first section, Becoming Me, describes Michelle’s life from birth to meeting Barack. The second section, Becoming Us, takes the reader through the Obama’s life and relationship as a couple, right up to the time Barack decides to run for presidency. The final section, Becoming More, details the presidential campaign and the Obama’s eight years as the first couple.
For me, Becoming Me, was hard to get through. There were so many details, so many names, so many memories. This portion was incredibly long and very boring. The writing felt haphazard and choppy, like Michelle had recorded her thoughts and later typed them out without planning or editing for a bigger picture or a cohesive story. There were many memories that really resonated with me, as a minority female, that just didn’t get the stage time they deserved. These big important memories that could have served as a connecting point for many young women across the U.S. were drowned in the memories of how orderly she kept her Barbies.
This section was also notable for its constant references to race, particularly in relation to white people. I understand that she was trying to emphasize how large of a role race played in Chicago during her childhood and how difficult it was/is to be black or brown in America, even today, but the constant references diluted the message when those references were truly relevant and important.
This section was by far, a huge disappointment and I almost gave up reading the book.
Things switched gears rather quickly when Michelle met Barack. As far the book goes, the writing for Becoming Us got much tighter, better edited and significantly more interesting. This portion of the book feels like it was written by an entirely different person and I wonder if Michelle was more comfortable sharing these memories and the distance she could maintain in this section or if this portion of the book was edited by someone else.
There is no doubt, after reading this section, that Michelle loves her husband. This part felt heavily filtered with positive PR and it did get a little old to hear about how amazing Barack was (over and over and over again). The worst thing we learned about him was he smoked and couldn’t manage to put his dirty clothes in the hamper.
While Becoming Me felt like Michelle was struggling with how to connect to her audience, in Becoming Us, Michelle hits the right chord, sharing just the right amount of memory, emotion, and spirit to connect with anyone who has ever been married, hated their job, desired soulful work, balanced kids and reigned in or chased after ambition. It was incredibly interesting to read about the Obamas as a new couple, their infertility, how they balanced work and family life and the struggle to keep their own identities and values amidst the political machine.
I appreciated how open Michelle was about her core fear of “not good enough” and how that tiny negative little message influenced many of her actions and decisions. It was also very interesting to read about how an extremely ambitious and well educated woman grappled with her husband’s dreams and ambition. Surprisingly, Michelle did not want her husband to enter the political arena and spent almost twenty years waiting for him to return to the private sector.
Becoming More was by far the most interesting portion of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed going behind the scenes and learning about the campaign process, the transition from president to president, living in the White House, the Secret Service and all of her First Lady initiatives. I also thoroughly enjoyed the stories of their children growing up in the White House and appreciated how all of Michelle’s decisions revolved around her children and maintaining their family unit.
There are several major reoccurring themes throughout Becoming which I think other readers will find inspiring and valuable. Chief among them is the importance of family and good meaningful friendships. Michelle is deeply rooted in her family and cultivated friendships to last a lifetime. Over and over again, we see friends and family as her source of strength. Second, the value of an education. Throughout the book, Michelle emphasized her belief in using education as a means to free oneself from your circumstances. And finally, the power in accepting who you are and where your heart lies. After a long battle with herself, Michelle gave up a prestigious high paying job as a lawyer to find work that was meaningful to her. We can all appreciate what it means to do work that speaks to our soul and leaves us satisfied at the end of the day.
All in all, Becoming was just way too long. Becoming Me gets a solid two stars. This first section could have done with some heavy editing and extreme tightening. Becoming Us and Becoming More could have and should have been the majority of the book, with a small section cherry picked from Becoming Me. The latter sections were well written and incredibly interesting. I learned a lot in these sections about political campaigns and how the first family operates within their roles and how they maintain a residence at the White House. Four stars for these two sections. Overall, 3 stars for Becoming.
Until next time, happy reading!