Official Book Review: Becoming by Michelle Obama

Grace Kahinga
6 min readSep 15, 2020

Becoming by Michelle Obama is more than what you would call an autobiography. It is a celebration and a reflection of the collection of people, events, challenges, and victories that took, to make the phenomenal woman that she is today. Her vulnerability and daring honesty throughout the book, makes it a personal adventure as thrilling and captivating, as it is thought-provoking. Her unique and sometimes, humorous approach of storytelling, made it particularly hard for me to take breaks in between. Were it not for my determination to do it the justice it deserves, I would have devoured it in one seating! Who would have dreamed that a little black girl raised in South Side of Chicago, would be First Lady someday?

Michelle begins by describing her childhood which consists of listening to music that drifts from below their apartment, sang by students taught by her great-aunt, Robbie. It is a situation she cannot escape from since her parents rent the second floor of Robbie’s house. Though they are not rich, her life is quite content. She lives with her two parents and older brother, Craig, while her grandparents and cousins lived within a five-block radius.

“Am I good enough? Yes I am.” — Michelle Obama

She starts schooling at Bryn Mawr Elementary School where her mother’s efforts at teaching her to read early pay off. She then moves on to Whitney M. Young High School, a ninety-minute ride from her home. Here, unlike the previous school, she realizes that it is safe to be smart despite her constantly questioning if she is good enough. When the time comes to start thinking about colleges, the school counselor tells her that she is not Princeton material. This does nothing to dampen her spirits because several months later, she is accepted into Princeton, where her brother is also studying.

“Failure is a feeling long before it’s an actual result” — Michelle Obama

Being a black woman in a predominantly white and male university does little in slowing down her grind. On top of her good grades, a babysitting business, and a great friendship with Suzanne, she also starts dating a football player, Kevin. This is long after she had let go of David, her high school’s sweetheart. After, she heads off to Harvard Law School which ultimately gets her a job at Sidley & Austin, earning more than what her parents ever had.

Finally, life is just as she had dreamed it such that when she agrees to mentor an incoming summer associate, she has no idea that her stars are about to be rearranged greatly. In comes Barrack Obama, her mentee and a gifted law student from Harvard whose exceptional reputation preceded him!

Michelle marries Barrack in October 1992. This is after the death of her college best friend, Suzanne, and her own father who had suffered from Multiple Sclerosis since she was young. Their dying leads her onto a journey where she questions and examines her life decisions. Deciding that being a lawyer doesn’t give her the fulfillment she seeks, she makes a career change from corporate law to being an assistant to a mayor at Chicago’s City Hall, taking a fifty-percent pay cut.

“When you aren’t being listened to, why wouldn’t you get louder?” — Michelle Obama

After many unfruitful attempts to get pregnant and a devastating miscarriage, Malia Obama is born followed by her sister, Natasha ‘Sasha’ Obama, three years later. By now, Barrack’s political career is in full swing. This sees Michelle hustling to maintain a wishful balance between being a mother, a wife to her husband and politician, a homemaker, and a career woman. Soon enough, her husband’s scary, hopeful, and almost inevitable political aspirations, threaten to take her by storm when he decides to run for the presidency.

Will Michelle survive the coming onslaught that the campaigns and the eventual transition to the White House will bring into her life? As a mother, how will she protect her young daughters from the sometimes harsh public scrutiny while helping them adapt to their new reality? Will her life experiences, achievements, personal losses, and dreams be adequate for the role of First Lady? Will her marriage go to the rocks or will it sail through the storm unscathed? What sacrifices will she have to make to support her husband’s larger-than-life vision? The bigger question is, how will she anchor herself to avoid being sucked in her husband’s unstoppable machine, to be much more than a President’s wife? Ultimately, will she be good enough for what is to come?

“Becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.” — Michelle Obama

Becoming follows the life of Michelle Obama in a chronological manner. She appreciates each decision made by her or by those in her life because they constantly put her in a continuous process of becoming. It is clear that she does not believe in playing small either. Throughout the book, Michelle has to make choices that put her in uncomfortable positions, even at the risk of utter failure and humiliation. But she soon realizes that it is the bigger decisions that give her the biggest rewards. I really enjoyed this aspect because of the suspense it triggers, making it a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Additionally, she breaks down myths surrounding strong, black, women. Many a time, her gender and black color have been used against her during her career, the presidential campaigns, and life as the First Lady. She is often labeled as ‘bossy” and “angry”. Her openness to sharing these unpleasant encounters makes her even more human and relatable. Yes, she is a superwoman but she can also be hurt, be demoralized, and cry. Just like I do!

My favorite part is where the age of four, she decides to learn piano from Robbie downstairs. With the help of the chipped C key on the piano and her apparent self-drive, she progresses quickly through the elementary music book. This, she observes, delights her teacher who is a master at hiding her pleasure in the student. However, this honeymoon phase as she calls it does not last long. Her increasing curiosity leads her to explore the deeper songs in the book without Robbie’s approval. So one evening, she confidently plays one of these songs but instead of the congratulations she had hoped for, she only gets a brutal “Good Night!” This leads to a heated argument between them where Michelle asserts herself but Robbie mirrors her stubbornness and determination in equal measure. Their relationship henceforth is alternated by a battle of wills which I find both adorable and hilarious.

The style of writing is simple to understand and avoids the ambiguity of words sometimes common in autobiographies. This makes it a great read for any person in any age bracket. The book is also professionally edited leaving no room whatsoever for spelling and grammatical errors. I particularly loved this about it as I find such mistakes interrupting my flow of thoughts which is unwelcome. Other than feeling that 426 pages were too short, there is nothing I disliked about the book. I, 11/10, recommend it to everyone who is looking for inspiration, motivation, and a role model, as well as anyone seeking their bigger purpose in life! Otherwise, this book fits as a perfect afternoon read, or any feel-good hour!

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Grace Kahinga

Copywriting | I have a teeny-tiny newsletter where I share life lessons in bite-sized letters every Thursday & Sunday. Find it here: thelastlotusflower.substack