On Becoming

Up first – no one has paid me to write this review and I am in no way doing this for any connection to the Obama’s. I truly just love to read and in case you couldn’t guess – I truly just love this book.

Let’s start with that name. Obama. It carries weight of a [insert politically correct -ism] lens whether you want it to or not and regardless of any political, social, economic, or conspiracy theorist reasons that lens may argue, this book should be read by everyone. While not the most poetic novel I have read, it does drive home some very deliberate points about education, accessibility, and the intersection of race in today’s America – or perhaps, yesterday’s America. I do think I want more than anything for it to be ‘Yesterday’s America’.

There’s an age-old maxim in the black community: You’ve got to be twice as good to get half as far.

Michelle Obama, Becoming

Regardless – the novel spans her entire life, thus far, starting with her feet in grass outside of the DC home the Obama’s purchased after Barack’s presidential terms. Even just reading through those parts of her life controlled so heavily by protection details, armored vehicles, and service elevators – and remember, don’t stand near the windows or go outside in the open – makes me cringe. I could not have existed let alone thrived in such stifling constriction.

Perhaps the most interesting part of it all is how easy it reads. Due to my active AF imagination, I easily pictured her sitting in my home, leaning over the granite tops, her hands cupped around tea – or maybe I can convince her to try Nikki’s Sangria, allowing us to giggle through to the darkened evening. The entire book carries the same casual tone and conversational style that amazingly does not compromise depth. If someone had told me she had personally written it from cover to cover, I would believe – with the tiniest bit of envy – but I would without a doubt.

While that in of itself does not make it an entirely remarkable book, I would argue that same steady casual voice keeps the book accessible to everyone – in particular to those who need it the most. Without such, the book becomes less effective as an empowering social commentary and memoir.

There were girls in hijab, girls for whom English was a second language, girls whose skin made up every shade of brown. I knew they’d have to push back against the stereotypes that would get put on them, all the ways they’d be defined before they’d had a chance to define themselves. They’d need to fight the invisibility that comes with being poor, female, and of color. They’d have to work to find their voices and not be diminished, to keep themselves from getting beaten down. They would have to work just to learn. But their faces were hopeful…

Michelle Obama, Becoming

It is the voice of a mother gently offering the guidance of her own experience and courage. The same courage it took to offer her own strong and determined voice as a modern day quantifier for the minority struggle; some facets exclusive to women as a whole and some only to African American women.

Women endure entire lifetimes of these indignities—in the form of catcalls, groping, assault, oppression. These things injure us. They sap our strength…

Michelle Obama, Becoming

It is the voice of a daughter who takes us on a journey of love and grief only the special bond between Daughter and Father could create.

Seeing my dad on the stoop, I ached in a way I never had. My instinct was to rush outside and help him back into the warm house, but I fought it, knowing it would be just another blow to his dignity.

Michelle Obama, Becoming

It is the voice of an empowered African American Woman taking every opportunity she has before, during, and after the White House Days, to offer love and support to as many as she could – or as she puts it:

I hugged absolutely every single girl I could reach.

Michelle Obama, Becoming

It is also the book that should be on everyone’s reading list, young or old – black, white, or blue. Hers is a story of hard work and dedication, trials and triumphs. Shining in every chapter, these values help her through troubled waters in face of danger or loss and it is in these sentences that the true poetry of this memoir become – well, memorable.

Not only have I written this article about this book, I have also refused to shut up about it and sent a copy of it to every woman I could reach. I agree it is not a hug – but if a book were to replace a supportive embrace between friends, this book would be it.

Read on literary travelers, read on. Until the next review.


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