Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette
by Maria Semple

My Rating:

 Sometimes, books just keep finding their way back to you, to the point that you have to give them a read. Where’d You Go, Bernadette was on my radar for a few years before I finally got a copy, and it kept showing up in different places. My friend Madeleine reviewed it for her blog, Sarah Dessen tweeted about it, and I saw the cover everywhere on Instagram. Then, it sort of just appeared in a bookstore I was in, and I knew I had to pick it up.

I’m so glad I did. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is the sort of contemporary fiction novel that comes along every once in a while that is laugh-out-loud funny while also serving as commentary on the world as the author sees it. It’s satire in the best form – relatable and true while still hopeful about things changing.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette tells the story of the disappearance of Bernadette Fox, a former award-winning architect who now stays pent up in her home (a former school for “troubled girls”) and hires a virtual assistant from India to accomplish even the simplest tasks for her. The two people she truly interacts with are her 15-year-old daughter Bee and her tech geek husband Elgin. After her disappearance, Bee tries to put the pieces of the puzzle back together through a compilation of emails, memos, notes, and other correspondence that tells the story of Bernadette’s life and her interactions with those around her. Along the way, the reader falls in love with Bernadette’s passion and learns how to see the world through her eyes.

The plot of this book is absolutely absurd, which should be no surprise for those who have read the synopsis on Goodreads. Key events in the story include a mudslide caused by a neighbor’s insistence to rid Bernadette’s lawn of blackberry bushes, a long cruise to Antartica with off-ship ventures counting penguins, a long saga that started with Bernadette allegedly running over the foot of another school mother, and more. The book just moves and moves because readers truly can’t imagine what will happen next. The pageturner nature of this book is just one of its many draws.

While the events of the plot are absurd, the commentary on the modern-day world of parenting and suburban life come off as incredibly realistic. Two of the most well-developed characters in the story are the mothers of other members of Bee’s school class, one of whom regards her snooping on Bernadette’s life as part of her Christian charity while the other works at Microsoft and tries to cling on to a corporate world where she doesn’t really fit in. Other characters in the book also serve as caricatures of the real thing, such as the burnt out school principal who could care less about parent drama and the local architecture student who is completely starstruck by Bernadette.

The plot, characters, and tone come together in this book to create a fun and engaging read. As a hopeful satire and a thrilling contemporary novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette deserves a place on many shelves.

Favorite Passages

On making life interesting:
“The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.”

On music:
“When “Here Comes the Sun” started, what happened? No, the sun didn’t come out, but Mom opened up like the sun breaking through the clouds. You know how in the first few notes of that song, there’s something about George’s guitar that’s just so hopeful? It was like when Mom sang, she was full of hope, too.”

On people:
“Just because it’s complicated, just because you think you can’t ever know everything about another person, it doesn’t mean you can’t try.”

Book Information
Title: Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Author: Maria Semple
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: 2012
Price: US $7.73 on Amazon
Source: Main Street Books in Orleans, MA

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