Obama emphasizes how important role models are, especially for young women of color in a culture that isn’t changing fast enough. But this book isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. By the end of it, she ultimately champions endurance and incremental change; she will probably be lauded and lambasted accordingly ... it’s the moments when Obama tries to make sense of what she’s seeing now, in the country, that are among the most moving—if only because she’s so clearly struggling to reconcile the cleareyed realism of her upbringing, brought about by necessity, with the glamorous, previously unthinkable life she has today ... For all the attempts by conservatives a decade ago to paint her as a radical, Obama seems to be a measured, methodical centrist at heart. But hers isn’t a wan faith in expanding the pie and crossing the aisle. Her pragmatism is tougher than that, even if it will come across as especially frustrating to those who believe that centrism and civility are no longer enough. As she writes in Becoming, she long ago learned to recognize the 'universal challenge of squaring who you are with where you come from and where you want to go.'
The first-lady memoir is a rite of passage, but Obama's is different by virtue of her very identity. Becoming takes her historic status as the first black woman to serve as first lady and melds it deftly into the American narrative ... her memoir is not a Washington read full of gossip and political score-settling—though she does lay bare her deep, quaking disdain for Trump, who she believes put her family's safety at risk with his vehement promotion of the false birther conspiracy theory ... Inevitably, her memoir will be compared to those of other first ladies. Her focus on owning one’s own unique story sets her book apart, but it is similar to Laura Bush's in one respect. Both women most deeply excavate the part of their life before the presidency enters.
This isn’t a rushed account aimed to fulfill a fat publishing contract or settle scores or provide uplift (though it does). Every page sparkles with directness and grace. She writes compellingly of the complexities of marriage and family with honesty and the kind of confidence that comes of being a person of integrity who knows who she is—and is comfortable with it. Like its author, Becoming’ is a work of solid worth ... Not that Becoming’ is Trump obsessed or gloomy (though her mournful remembrances of the Newtown, Conn., Charleston, S.C., and Orlando, Fla., massacres are haunting). Her grief and grievances never overwhelm. Many pages are filled with fun bits about Carpool Karaoke with James Corden, Nerf dunking with LeBron James, and discussing women’s shoes with Queen Elizabeth II.