Book Review: Becoming Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama

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Even my cat, Pokey Jones, liked this book!

Once upon a time, in land called the south side of Chicago, lived a girl named Michelle Robinson. Instead of living in a huge castle, she lived in a modest house on a street called Euclid Avenue. And instead of having to deal with an evil stepmother, she had two loving parents and a protective older brother. Like a lot of girls, Michelle Robinson dreamed of adventures that would take her beyond her humble roots and finding her own Prince Charming. She did that and so much more, thus becoming the history-making first lady Michelle Obama, not only the first black first lady (not to mention one of the most educated and admired, and if I may dip my toes into the shallow end of the pool, one of the most stylish first ladies, in the history of the United States).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are so “unwoke” you might as well be in a coma, you are fully aware of Michelle Obama’s years of living in the White House – her “Let’s Move” campaign to alleviate childhood obesity, her work with second lady Dr. Jill Biden on veterans’ issues, her loving marriage to President Barack Obama, and her challenges of raising two children in the White House under the glare of the media. This is a very compelling part of Becoming, and Mrs. Obama is fully honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly she dealt with during the White House years.

However, most of Becoming focuses on Mrs. Obama’s life before her time as First Lady, and it is both extraordinary and ordinary, which I’m sure a lot of readers with relate to.

Mrs. Obama describes these years in rich detail that had me riveted. Her family was firm and loving, inspiring her to be a striver and excel in whatever she pursued. She writes about teachers who supported her from grade school through law school. She lovingly mentions the girlfriends who inspired her, and are still with her today (even if one standout friend is only with her in spirit). Mrs. Obama discusses the various mentors she was blessed with while navigating the difficulties in the workplace. And she’s brutally honest about these privileges and her gratitude seems truly sincere.

However, she also had to deal with the thorny issues of both racism and sexism, and plenty of naysayers who claimed she’d never make it. For instance, one person tried to convince Mrs. Obama that she wasn’t Ivy League material. Ha, she showed this person, didn’t she?

And yes, Mrs. Obama also dishes on a certain fellow named Barack Obama, from her initial meeting when she was his mentor to her twenty-five plus years of their marriage.

But just as Mrs. Obama is grateful for her blessings, she is also honest about the trials and tribulations she faced personally. Prince Charming was sometimes a bit of a challenge and often their marriage was less than ideal. Mrs. Obama also faced issues with having children, finally reverting to using fertility treatments and later giving birth to her cherished daughters Malia and Sasha. In other words, her life is at turn both typical and atypical, one that inspires and one that a lot of us can relate to.

Now, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Michelle Obama. However, as a book reviewer I realize I must be truthful of my assessment of Becoming. Not to be gross, but you can’t crap on a cone and expect me to call it ice cream. Thank goodness, Becoming is a sundae of a read and truly exceeded my expectation. It’s both down to earth and out of this world, one that takes a treasured place on my book shelf. I can’t recommend it enough.

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Revenants-The Odyssey Home by Scott Kauffman

Meet Betsy, the teenage protagonist of Scott Kauffman’s novel Revenants: The Odyssey Home. In the era of the Vietnam War and the turmoil that went along with those days, Betsy is deeply grieving the death of her older brother, Nate, who has lost his life while serving in Vietnam. Betsy goes into a tailspin of depression, acting in ways she knows Nate would never approve of.

Hoping to shake her grief, stay out of trouble, and get some meaning to her life, Betsy volunteers at the local VA hospital. Everyday she is dealing with patients who have witnessed atrocities she can only imagine and dares not think what her brother may have witnessed.

One of these patients is an elderly man, near death, who served in World War I, “The Great War,” as if war can be considered “great.” This gentleman has one wish, to go home to be with his family before he dies.

Betsy decides it is to be her mission to get this man back to his family before he dies even though she knows so little about him. He is a true mystery. However, Betsy isn’t the only one who is interested in this man. So is a crooked politician, Congressman Hanna, who has a great deal of control of this hospital and the small-town in which it is located. Congressman Hanna knows this dying patient’s name and if this man’s name is revealed, Hanna can pretty much say good-bye to his political career and his long marriage.

Betsy is not alone on this odyssey. One person who supports Betsy is her younger brother Bartholomew who shares her grief over the loss of Nate and offers her encouragement. And then there is aspiring newspaper reporter, Matt, who knows getting this scoop on this elderly veteran and how he is connected to Congressman Hanna would be a definite career change. However, he is there to help Betsy not use her.

Throughout the novel there are twists and turns as Betsy, along with Matt, learns more and more about what about this old man and how it infuriates Congressman Hanna. And there are times when Betsy feels the wrath of Hanna and wonders how it will affect her in the long run. Betsy and Matt’s relationship grows from one that at first strictly professional but soon grows to be a friendship (which a times hints at the romantic).

Interspersed throughout the novel are scenes of Betsy working with other veterans at the hospital and chapters devoted to the elderly veteran what he went through during World War I that were quite chilling indeed. These chapters really got into the crux of what war can do to one singular human being. And Nate’s letters home to Betsy are also a welcome addition. Sure, he’s a teasing older brother but he is also loving and kind towards his little sister.

At the end Revenants, things don’t go exactly as planned and things don’t get wrapped up in a pretty bow. But Betsy does learn one great lesson. She has more power than she originally thinks and if she realizes it she can use these powers to help others as well as herself. She does a lot of growing up during this journey.

For the most part I liked Revenants. Betsy is a heroine who is realistic, at turns a rebellious teen and at others an incredibly brave young woman. Matt is a wonderful support system and I admire his tenacity in getting this important news story together using good old-fashioned gumshoe journalistic tactics (especially in our age of clickbait and “fake news”). As for Congressman Hanna? Well, he is no mustache twirling villain, just sleazy and corrupt. I must admit I rather liked how Hanna was so threatened by a teenage girl and a cub reporter.

I do have a few issues. At times I forgot about Bartholomew and it was odd how Nate’s letters to Betsy there was nary a mention of Bartholomew.

But these issues are minor. For the most part I found The Revenants to be a very relevant novel, and even timeless in the year 2018 when it comes to war, politics, journalism, the plight of our veterans and people’s desire to make a difference.