Becoming

Rating: 
Author: Michelle Obama
Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Pub date: Nov. 2018 (read Jan. 2019 on Audible)
Narrator: Michelle Obama

I admit, I’ve been postponing writing my review on Becoming because I’m at a bit of a loss for what to write. I still don’t really know what I’m going to say, so let’s just go for it and see what comes out (honestly, this is why I like writing reviews because half the time I don’t know how I really feel about a book until I actually sit down and write something about it).

I listened to Becoming as an audiobook – it’s narrated by Michelle so that’s a huge benefit to reading it this way. Like pretty much every other liberal Canadian out there, I love the Obama’s. I’ve always liked Barrack and his policies when he was President, and though I didn’t think too much about Michelle most of the time, I admired her for her attitude. Together I thought they brought something fun and new to the White House and having the Obama’s replaced by the Trump’s has only served to make me miss them more.

I’m not sure what I expected this book to be about. To be honest, I didn’t really know that much about Michelle except that she had nice arms, cared about healthy eating, and always radiated positive thinking in her speeches. I guess I thought this would mostly be about her time as first lady, but it was actually a pretty substantial look at her entire life. It’s broken into three parts; the first part focuses on her childhood and education, the second part on her relationship with Barrack, and the last part on her time as First Lady. Barrack obviously features heavily in the memoir, especially since she essentially had to give up her own career to accommodate his dreams when he became president, but it is really still just about Michelle.

Michelle grew up in Chicago and her memoir takes us through her early years growing up on the south side. Her family wasn’t wealthy, but they weren’t poor either, mostly they were just a family that stuck to their guns. Michelle and her brother were both very smart and are both Princeton graduates. She graduated with a law degree and worked as a lawyer for many years, trying many different things. She worked for a big law firm, which is where she met Barrack, but found this high paced life wasn’t for her, which inspired her to seek out more meaningful work. She is a very successful individual in her own right.

What I liked most about her memoir was how personal it was. She shares her struggles being the wife of a senator and how hard she had to work to maintain her own career and family life. Both her and Barrack had big dreams for their futures and she struggled with the traditional roles that were expected of her as a mother. She always wanted to support Barrack, but it was hard on her and the family when he had so many commitments all over the country. Honestly, I was kind of annoyed for her. Most of the domestic responsibilities fell to her over the years and she’s honest about how difficult it felt to manage that. She says multiple times that she never really wanted Barrack to be in politics.

As a couple, Barrack and Michelle are pretty inspiring themselves. They’re both very ambitious people, but they were able to make it work. Michelle was able to stay out of politics when Barrack was a senator, but when he ran for President, she was essentially forced to give up her job to support him. I think I personally would have really struggled with that if I was in her shoes. I would hate to have to set my own ambitions aside, especially as a woman who hates fitting into traditional gender roles. But people have to make sacrifices in relationships all the time and sometimes you will have to prioritize one career over the other if you want to make your relationship work. So I really admired Michelle for deciding what concessions she was willing to make and for the compromises they made in other areas. As First Lady she had a huge platform from which to work and I think all of her experience in the workforce and as a lawyer really worked to her advantage.

I did struggle with this book at times. I never found it boring and I was always into it while listening to it, but you already know how the story ends, so sometimes I did tune out a little bit. Even though I think Michelle is really honest in this memoir, something about it still felt a little sanitized to me. I think that’s to be expected from someone who had to constantly censor themselves at all times lest she say something that could be construed in a poor light or misinterpreted. It’s too bad, because I think the Obama’s are probably one of the most down to earth couples that have ever been in the White House, but because they are black they are held to a much higher standard and there’s really no room for them to make mistakes or be messy. Being messy is what makes people real, but that privilege will never be conferred on a couple like the Obama’s. Trump can say all the dumb shit he wants (and does) and his supporters will still look the other way. Michelle had to be a role model in every aspect of her life and she did it really well.

Overall I think she offers up a lot of herself in this book. I also think it’s a bit of a chance for her to tell her side of the story- to clear the air on the ways she was misunderstood or misquoted on the campaign trail and during her time as First Lady. Without Barrack, Michelle is still an inspiring individual and it was really interesting to learn about her roots. I have tickets to hear her speak in March and I’m excited to hear what else she has to say!

The Nowhere Girls

Rating: 
Author: Amy Reed
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub Date: Oct. 2017 (read Apr. 2018 as audiobook)

Why aren’t more people talking about this book?!! This was so fantastic and such a great example of how much impact a YA novel can have!

I am on fire with reading audiobooks lately. I get one audiobook a month on audible and I had a huge backlog because I hadn’t used it at all since November, but this was my 4th audiobook in the last month and I’ve finally run out of credits and will have to go back to the library’s crappy audiobook selection now. I may have to buy a hard copy of this book too because the writing was just too good and sometimes I miss things on audiobook, so I’d really love to give this another read. (the audiobook narrator is still great though!)

The Nowhere Girls tells the story of 3 girls in high school: Grace, Rosina, and Erin. Grace is a self-identified, christian, fat girl who just moved to Oregon from the South because her mother, who is a pastor, was too progressive for their mega-church. Rosina is a gay, mexican girl who constantly fights with her mother over the excessive amount of responsibility she feels is placed on her and wonders if she’ll ever have a loving girlfriend. Erin has Asperger’s and struggles to make friends and relate with people. Her family moved to Prescott 2 years ago after an incident that happened to Erin and now her father is never home and her mother is overly obsessed with Erin’s health.

Erin and Rosina are each other’s only friends and they welcome Grace into their group when she starts at school. When Grace finds upsetting messages written on the walls of her bedroom, she discovers that her new home used to belong to a girl named Amy who claimed to have been gang raped at a party the year before. No one believed her and she was essentially forced out of town. Grace is upset by the cries for help etched into her wall and asks Erin and Rosina for more information on how this could possibly have happened and whether there’s anything they can do about it. They are apathetic at first, but eventually, the Nowhere Girls are born, a group for girls who want to talk about the unfairness of the world and the expectations that are placed on them as women, and do something to change it.

I’ve seen some comparisons of this book to Moxie, which I also read last year. Both books were published last year and a focus on combating rape culture and empowering girls. Moxie seems to have gotten most of the buzz, which is a shame because, while I liked Moxie, I thought this was a much stronger book. This is an exploration of rape culture, identity, diversity, and inclusion. Moxie was a great book too, but is a more white-feminist exploration of sexism and rape culture, this felt way more gritty and intersectional. There were some actions that the nowhere girls took that I kind of questioned (the sex strike), but Reed has her characters question those actions too and I liked the journey her characters took in trying to navigate the complicated world of gender politics. She did briefly feature one black girl who felt the Nowhere Girls was a group for white girls, and I wish she’d explored this angle a little bit more, but still a fantastic and thought provoking novel overall.

Amy Reed explored a lot of aspects of rape culture in this novel from a lot of different perspectives. I liked that she didn’t just focus on Grace, Rosina, and Erin, but that she also linked in a lot of side characters with little snippets from their perspectives. But I still thought all 3 of the main perspectives were very strong. I really appreciated that Reed included a christian perspective outside of the context of a christian novel. I can’t actually think of many examples of religious exploration in YA novels outside of specific christian fiction, which is often preachy and not that relatable. I liked that Grace and her family were down to earth and that they were able to find a way in which their faith and liberal mindsets didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. I liked that Reed acknowledged that it’s both okay to want to wait until marriage to have sex and to have no desire to wait. That saying yes is just as important as saying no.

I thought Erin’s character was really well done as well, although I’d be interested to hear from someone with Asperger’s if this was an accurate portrayal. I liked Rosina a lot too, but I struggled to understand her mom. This is the 3rd book I’ve read lately about a Mexican family and they all had similar themes of familiar conflict, but I thought Rosina’s mother had almost no humanity. I know she was frustrated with Rosina, but come on, Rosina is a teenager, she’s obviously going to act out and it didn’t really seem like her mom really cared about her all.

But these are small complains because I really did love this book. It represented so many different experiences, while also being really well written. I read The Authentics earlier this month and complained that it was just too feel good and the conflict lacked depth. The Nowhere Girls is the complete opposite of that and the reason I think YA books shouldn’t be afraid to really go there. Teenagers are complex and emotional people and authors shouldn’t be afraid to challenge their thinking. I would recommend this book to any teenager and any adult because it has some great discussions about rape culture and it will make you mad!