Friday, December 20, 2019

Memoir Review: Becoming

One of the books I started during Nonfiction November and just finished this month was Becoming by Michelle Obama. I had been looking forward to this one for a long time, after hearing such great feedback, and I listened to it on audio, read by the author, as so many people suggested. I absolutely loved this warm, honest telling of how a compassionate, intelligent woman suddenly found herself living in the White House.

Michelle (I feel like I can call her that, after listening to her tell her life story in my ear for 19 hours!) begins at the beginning, with her childhood and her family, growing up on the second floor of a house on the South Side of Chicago with a loving mother, father, and older brother. They didn't have much money, but her parents worked hard, valued education, and provided a stable and loving home. She talks about her earliest memories--learning the piano from her great aunt who lived on the first floor, gathering with extended family for holidays and celebrations, attending the local elementary school--while thoughtfully also considering what things must have been like for her parents. Her father had MS, a debilitating and progressive disease, though he never complained or called attention to his disability. When Michelle had an ineffective second grade teacher, who was apathetic and unable to control or teach her class, her mother stood up for her and asked the principal to pull a group of talented children from a bunch of classes, including Michelle, together for more advanced learning with a motivated teacher.

From there, Michelle moved onto a charter high school and finally to Princeton, where her older brother was a student. She worked hard and went onto Harvard Law School and, from there, to a prestigious law firm in Chicago, where she first met Barack, a brilliant law intern who was late for his first day of work. Eventually, she realized--slowly but surely and with influence from Barack--that she didn't really enjoy practicing law and she wanted to do something that felt more valuable to her, to give back to her community. She and Barack married and began having children (not always an easy process for them), while she worked in a series of public service/community outreach jobs in the education and healthcare fields. During that same time, her husband began his political career, being elected to successively larger roles in government. Finally, she talks about what it was like, from the inside, to be a part of her husband's Presidential campaign and to live in the White House--and raise children there.

That is just the most basic outline of her life, but Michelle digs in deep in this memoir, sharing her fears and insecurities (yes, she had plenty), her thoughts and feelings, and what was happening behind the scenes in her increasingly public life. It is clear that she is an ordinary yet extraordinary woman, strong, resilient, thoughtful, and caring. Her (and Barack's) powerful need to be of service and do good in the world comes through, as does her intense love for both her family of origin and her husband and children. Believe it or not, I found the early parts of her memoir quite relatable. She's just a few years older than me, so we came of age at the same time, and I could relate to her stories of growing up, going to school, and being in college in the 70's and early 80's. Besides those obvious parallels, though, much of that feeling probably came from the way that Michelle tells her life story, with openness and authenticity. Even her stories of living in the White House are told with sincerity and humor. I enjoyed every moment of this audio book and despite its length, was sorry that it ended. It's the engrossing, warm, funny life story of an ordinary yet extraordinary woman, and I am so glad she let us into her world.

448 pages, Crown Publishing Group

Listen to a sample from the beginning of this fabulous audio book read by the author or download it from Audible.

You can purchase Becoming from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or you can order Becoming from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. I really enjoyed this book and listening to her tell her own story must be pretty special.