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Michelle Obama grows up in a two-story bungalow on Chicago’s South Side. Her parents, Fraser and Marian Robinson, rent an upstairs apartment from Marian’s aunt and uncle, who live downstairs. Michelle’s father has multiple sclerosis, but he does not let his disability limit him. He works at a water filtration plant and is also a local precinct captain for the Democratic party. Michelle is a smart, determined girl with little tolerance for disorder. She is less sociable than her older brother, Craig, a gifted basketball player who has many friends. Over time, however, Michelle learns to be more outgoing.
Michelle’s parents believe in education. Her mother does volunteer work on behalf of their neighborhood school, which struggles to maintain quality as the neighborhood declines. Fraser and Marian send Craig to a predominantly white Catholic school with a strong basketball program and a rigorous curriculum. When Michelle is ready for high school, she gains admission to Whitney Young, a new magnet school for gifted students. At Whitney Young, her friendship with a daughter of civil rights leader the Reverend Jesse Jackson gives Michelle a chance to observe what life is like for people active in politics.
Michelle follows her brother to Princeton, where she does well. One of her closest friends at Princeton is a Jamaican student named Suzanne; that friendship helps Michelle see that not everyone has to be as organized and driven as she is. Michelle graduates, studies law at Harvard, and goes to work at a high-end law firm in Chicago. By then, however, she realizes that she hates being a lawyer. Her life takes a turn when she is asked to help mentor a male summer associate named Barack Obama. The son of a Black Kenyan father and a white American mother, he is older than Michelle but started law school later, after some years doing other things, including community organizing in Chicago. Barack’s brilliance is quickly apparent to everyone at the firm, and he and Michelle are immediately attracted to each other.
As Michelle and Barack get acquainted, she sees that he has a higher tolerance for turmoil and uncertainty than she does. She also sees his dedication to making the world a better place. However, Michelle faces crushing loss: her friend Suzanne dies of cancer, and her father dies from MS after decades of fighting to live a normal life. Realizing that life is short, Michelle looks for opportunities to transition out of her legal career. Some personal connections lead to a job at city hall, working for Valerie Jarrett, who will become a lifelong friend and ally. Barack, meanwhile, works in the Chicago area for a national get-out-the vote organization. By now, he and Michelle are engaged. They marry in 1992.
Barack is working for a public interest law firm when the opportunity arises for him to run for a seat in the Illinois state senate. By now, Michelle has run a nonprofit organization and is serving as a university dean. Michelle does not like politics and predicts that Barack will not like it, either; but after he wins his race, he turns out to have the right kind of temperament and skills to be a politician. Then Barack loses his mother to cancer, and Michelle suffers a miscarriage. After failed attempts to conceive again, the Obamas turn to in vitro fertilization (IVF) and their first daughter, Malia, is born Michelle becomes director of community outreach at a hospital.
After a failed campaign for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, daughter Sasha is born. Their burgeoning family and careers but strains on Michelle and Barack, but couples therapy helps them make some useful adjustments. Barack runs for the U.S. Senate and unexpectedly builds a commanding lead even before his speech at the Democratic National Convention boosts his national profile. He wins the Senate race easily.
When Barack moves to Washington, Michelle and the girls stay in Chicago. To her consternation, Barack and a team of advisers are already discussing a 2008 presidential run. She agrees to be part of the campaign but privately thinks that as a Black man, Barack cannot win. During the campaign, there are absurd rumors, circulated by his opponents, about Barack having Muslim ties. Michelle is an asset on the campaign trail, although she is discouraged when a video of one of her speeches is edited down to suggests that she carries a grudge against America. After the August convention, where Michelle gives a well-received speech, Barack and his running mate, Joe Biden, achieve a decisive win. Michelle believes that Barack is the right person to lead the country out of the ongoing economic recession.
The transition between the Bush and Obama administrations is smooth and welcoming. The White House staff is kind and efficient. Michelle and Barack learn to get used to being accompanied by Secret Service agents whenever they go out, but they do their best to keep the girls’ lives as normal as possible. Michelle’s mother, whom Barack and Michelle persuaded to move in with them, declines Secret Service protection altogether.
As First Lady, Michelle must be engaged and productive without overstepping her bounds. Her early work focuses on childhood obesity, through the Let’s Move! initiative to promote exercise and healthy eating. Michelle plants a vegetable garden on the South Lawn. She also promotes post-high school education through her Reach Higher initiative, and education for girls around the world through the Let Girls Learn initiative. Finally, she teams up with the Second Lady, Jill Biden, to improve support for military families through the Joining Forces initiative.
During Barack’s successful reelection campaign in 2012, Michelle discovers the power of social media. Like the rest of the country, the Obamas are shocked by mass shootings at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut and at a Black church in Charleston. The death of a Chicago girl in a drive-by shooting has personal meaning for Michelle: the girl lived not far from Michelle’s old neighborhood and had recently participated in the second inaugural celebration.
During the 2016 presidential contest, Michelle is appalled by Donald Trump’s past and present behavior and is shocked when he achieves a come-from-behind win over Hillary Clinton. She takes comfort in all the things she and Barack have accomplished over the last eight years and reminds herself that there is much to be optimistic about.