Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Book Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

This book has been getting massive buzz ever since it came out earlier this year and rightfully so! The cover drew me in immediately (isn't it great?). And the mystery kept me hooked until the end.

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle--and people in general--has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence--creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.
“This is why you must love life: one day you're offering up your social security number to the Russian Mafia; two weeks later you're using the word calve as a verb.” 
“I can pinpoint that as the single happiest moment of my life, because I realized then that Mom would always have my back. It made me feel giant. I raced back down the concrete ramp, faster than I ever had before, so fast I should have fallen, but I didn't fall, because Mom was in the world.” 
“Every single iceberg filled me with feelings of sadness and wonder. Not thoughts of sadness and wonder, mind you, because thoughts require a thinker, and my head was a balloon, incapable of thoughts. I didn't think about Dad, I didn't think about you, and, the big one, I didn't think about myself. The effect was like heroin (I think), and I wanted to stretch it out as long as possible."

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is a funny, twisted mystery that kept me turning the pages! From the initial chapter, (loved Bernadette's emails to her virtual assistant - where do I get one?) I was hooked to this clever tale that explores the relationship between Bernadette and her daughter Bee as well as Bernadette's place in the world after abandoning her ambitions.
So, our story begins with a plan for a trip. Bee is a brilliant over-achiever at school and after her middle school graduation, her parents promised she could have any wish granted as a present. She wants a family vacation to Antarctica. Her parents concede and Antarctic trip planning ensues. One small problem: Bernadette doesn't like to leave the house or deal with people at all outside of her family. However, for Bee, she is willing to make the personal sacrifice.
Not everything goes as planned, however, and before they can embark for their trip, a sometimes hilarious-sometimes sad series of events ensue that lead up to Bernadette's disappearance days before they are supposed to leave. Bee then makes it her mission to find her mother and unravel the mystery.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is told from a flashback perspective through a series of emails and letters that Bee has discovered after her mother vanishes. The story unfolds in bits and pieces and I enjoyed the teasing out of the details, which kept me on my toes.
The story is a little twisted and very satirical, shining a spotlight on helicopter mothering, PTA politics, trendy hipster ideals, Seattle and even behind the scenes at Microsoft. While I wouldn't call Where'd You Go, Bernadette? dark, I would say it has a bit of and edge and weirdly reminds me of a cross between The Help, Bridget Jones' Diary and The Shopaholic series.
Semple has created a clever novel that will keep you turning the pages just to see what insanity will be around the next bend.





  1. It's definitely worth it. I'd even say it's worth moving to the top portion of your to-read list. I was disappointed it didn't make it past the first round in the 2013 Tournament of Books! Maybe a zombie round comeback?

  2. Very clever - I enjoyed the ride and getting to know the amazing characters. Bernadette's rants about Seattle had me rolling with laughter.



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