By Hannah McCandless
Hannah is a second year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program at Sarah Lawrence College.
Dear Michelle Obama,
You’re a great writer. (I mean really, really good.) I think a lot of people ready your book and it filled them up in a way they didn’t know they needed. It did the same for me and sometimes I still go back to read a random chapter or two just because of the comfort of it. Though titled a love letter, this is more of an extremely positive book review of Becoming. (Now that I’ve written it, I can say this is less of a book review and more of a wow-what-a-great-book-I-am-still-processing review.) Don’t get me wrong, I totally love you, Michelle Obama. I am so very thankful that you are a person in this world. But folks gotta know about this book because at its core, it creates strength and hope in others.
Becoming was a beautifully written reflection on a life, though nowhere near done, was well lived. Splitting the book into three sections, she captured her life development with herself, her life development with a partner and young children, and her life development with the country. This book, the first I have read for pleasure in a long time, I found refreshing, often reading chapters in between readings for class.
The beginning of her life could be characterized as light. The love she had for her family, her family for her, and the memories she shared were all full of joy. Her mother, stern but understanding, was a driving force throughout. Her father, a man who dealt with MS and various other related health issues, was a mentor and role model she spoke of with high esteem. Her brother, her best friend and fiercest cheerleader from day one, was one of my favorite characters. His name was Craig and he was in so many ways the person who pushed Michelle to be a planner, but also someone who was highly ambitious. Her memories of her childhood neighborhood in Chicago make you miss home.
Her childhood and young adulthood shaped her to be a woman who was well rounded, strong, determined, loving, ambitious, and so much more. Her education at Princeton and Harvard were shaped by her class and race in major ways which gave her a lens to view the world she did not have when she attended school in a relatively diverse elementary, middle, and high school. She was able to have a complex understanding of class at a young age and that understanding clearly followed her into the work she took on later.
I remember the love story she described between her and Barack. Their first kiss after an ice cream date made me feel giddy, like I had just heard the story of a friend in middle school having her first kiss. Sometimes I wonder what love means, and I think, among other things, moments where everything melts away are moments of love. Feeling the affection and love of another and feeling like you can find a way to make anything work. As described by Michelle Obama, the love between her and Barack melted away any anxieties either of them had which helped them both become fuller versions of themselves.
Michelle and Barack found a way to make their love work, much of their lives shaped by his own ambition. Their lives and loves overlapped in a way that allowed them to share values that supported social equity, but different enough that each of them found a sense of self in their own work. Their children brought great joy to them. Michelle’s story about having a miscarriage was powerful, showing women through the written word that it does happen, it is painful, and it is not your fault. Her reflections on motherhood were also meaningful, making me wonder and think about what I might someday be facing as a mother. I think her balance between work and parenting was realistic, and it was something that helped me see that life as something that could work and be meaningful for me as well.
What ended up sticking out to me about the final set of chapters was how Michelle brought up events that I remembered. Listening to her reflect, I too was able to look back on various times in our country’s recent history where I felt broken and moved, joyous and inspired. Her reflections on these moments were meaningful and often brought me on the verge of tears. For her, I am thankful, because those reflections helped me to feel once again more connected and thankful to my country after feeling very disillusioned after the last election. This was a wonderful book and I am so glad I was able to find the time to read it.
Please read it. It will hit you right in the feels (in a good way).