”Becoming,” by Michelle Obama, Crown Publishing Group, 2018, hardback, 421 pages

So far in her life, Michelle Obama has been a lawyer, vice president at a hospital, director of a nonprofit, a black student at a fancy white college, and the only African-American woman in lots of rooms. She has been a bride, a stressed out new mother, and a grieving daughter when her father died at 55.

Michelle takes the first third of the book to tell about her childhood in their cramped apartment in 1960s South Side Chicago. Her life was meager, but happy, with scads of family and cousins.

She remembers while playing with cousins, she got a sideways look and the question, “How come you talk like a white girl?” She did speak differently than some of her relatives. Her parents didn’t allow her to say “gonna” for “going” or “ain’t” for “isn’t.” She grew up never doubting she was loved and never forgetting her working class roots, but she’s still figuring out who she wants to be.

She is in a new place with lots to say. In high school, a counselor discouraged her from applying to Princeton. She ignored the advice, but she felt pressure to prove herself, to confirm that she did belong at Princeton, as much as anyone.

She met Barack Obama when she became his summer internship adviser. She saw no future for them. She was a perfectionist and a planner. He continued to always be late. He wastes no time or effort wondering whether he will reach his goals.

Both admit that their relationship has been challenging. She acknowledges mistakes and missteps, but was able to accept criticisms and turned them into successes. The indecency and insincerity of politics left her hurt and furious.

She was criticized as an “angry black woman.” She resented Barack’s unshakable commitment to his work. She describes her life as a working full-time mother with a half-time spouse.

She admitted that she felt she was putting her dreams on hold to fulfill his. When he decided to run for president they were totally at odds. He wanted it, she didn’t; but, she knew he’d make a great president. Now she has completed eight years as First Lady of the United States.

She’s not a fan of Trump, and takes aim at his racist rhetoric, including his insistence that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.

Michelle says, “I’m an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey. In sharing my story, I hope to help create space for other stories ... There’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we Become.”

JoAn Watson Martin is an educator.

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