Becoming by Michelle Obama

Before reading “BECOMING,” I knew little about MICHELLE OBAMA.

I knew she was married to President Barack Obama, that she had two daughters and that she always presented a professional, polished image. Embarrassingly, that was the extent.

I did not realize her parents were happily married until her father died from multiple sclerosis at the age of 55, she holds an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a law degree from Harvard, and shockingly for me, her first introduction to her husband was as his mentor at the law firm in Chicago where she was first employed after law school.

Thank goodness I checked out this memoir. In reading it, I learned so much about Michelle Obama’s life and how she became who she is today.

Obama’s writing is clear, accessible and descriptive. She does an excellent job of developing a timeline and explaining details. It was a treat to get to read about the campaigns and elections from her viewpoint. Her love and support of her husband shines through in the book but not in the typical ways most wives support their politician husbands. Committing to being married to a politician was not an easy decision for her and one she struggled with many times during his career — and still struggles with today.

Her parents raised a strong, independent person, and her ability to have her own goals and passions were vital to her happiness. She found her own path, and while sometimes it was not easy, she persevered and not only had a fulfilling career but parented two beautiful, smart and passionate daughters and supported her husband.

Her love for children is often mentioned, and she was able to incorporate that into her platform as first lady, focusing on nutrition, physical activity and healthy eating. Building a garden on the White House lawn as a way to involve youth groups and show how to make healthy food choices was no easy feat, but it turned out as a beautiful addition and provided thousands of pounds of fresh produce for the White House. Her messages about hope and “you matter,” focused primarily toward young women, are powerful statements about her beliefs and dreams.

Hearing about the Secret Service was interesting and insightful. Obama has a deep respect for the men and women who protect her family, and she also talks about the other White House staff members and how they became more than staff to her family. Her description of how sad she felt leaving the White House on the final day of her husband’s presidency showcases the connections the Obama family made with their caretakers.

Her story comes together by letting the people be the focus. She is good at seeing people and reading them. She demonstrates grace throughout the narrative, and this combined with her inner beauty make it easy to see why so many people adore her.

Also, I loved the insight that I got about Barack from this memoir. It was a beautiful thing to see our 44th president through the eyes of his wife and partner. She shares special things that many people would not know about him — he used to smoke, he works best shut away in a messy “hole” of an office and he seems to grow calmer as the chaos rises. So many great stories are included in the narrative.

She also highlights key moments during the eight years they were in the White House — finding and killing Osama Bin Laden, the massacre in Newtown and the legalization of gay marriage — and uses these stories to showcase there was always a crisis to contend with, and while it was apparent things like this would continue, the response she and Barack gave were important. People were looking to them to lead, and they did their best to do a good job.

This well-crafted, powerful read should not be missed. The pacing is spot on, and the imagery the author is able to create with her words will make the reader feel part of the story. The warmth she feels for people radiates outward, and her use of story and the power that it yields is phenomenal. She uses her story to provide hope, inspiration and spotlight a message of love.

Jeana Gockley is the director of the Joplin Public Library.

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