Title: Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Author: Maria Semple
Publisher: Little, Brown
Hardcover: 330 pages
Source: Borrowed from Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
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.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
The story behind this book: Andrew’s cousin Liz once recommended this to me while we were visiting her during spring break. We were so busy exploring Seattle, however, that I never got around reading to it. So, when our local book club had this listed as the book they were reading next, we both thought that it’d be a good way to: read the same book at the same time, finally read the book his cousin recommended so long ago, and meet new people in the process.
I had a hard time getting into this, but once it got going, I was fully immersed. I think that Semple does a really good job of finding the humor in intense situations and really plays that up in this book, which I found enjoyable.
The best moments for me were the crazy PTA parents and Bernadette’s ways of getting back at them. In a lot of ways, I identified with Bernadette, which is kind of scary, but I’m not going to think about that too much. :p Having visited Seattle, it was a huge bonus for me to sort of know the neighborhoods and stereotypes that are portrayed. It added some nuance and detail to the story that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
While I very much enjoyed the middle, I found the end to drop back down to how I felt in the beginning. There isn’t much of a satisfying resolution and everything feels ridiculous; unfortunately, Semple goes past humor and goes into drama for drama’s sake. Without getting into spoilers, there were a lot of actual problematic issues going on that were sort of glossed over and made to look like they were resolved. Regardless, I enjoyed this book overall (still rated it a 4!) and it was an entertaining, easy read for what it was. I think anyone looking for a bit of good fun will enjoy this — it’s very approachable and deals with situations that almost anyone can relate to. Great book club book, for the record.
This could be my bias towards love of architecture coming out, but I wish they had spent more time revisiting Part II, where it talks about Bernadette’s career as an architect. It was one of the more compelling parts of the book, and I wish it had been a bigger part of the story instead of glossed over and just used as background information. Additionally, it gets strangely meta at the end, and I don’t think that it was done as well as it could have been.
Overall, however, it’s really funny. I laughed quite a bit while listening to this. It’s well written, and I think that the e-mail/letter format is well done and interesting. For the most part, the format fits the story nicely. I listened to this as an audiobook, and I do recommend it if you’re a fan of audiobooks; the narrator does a really good job. I think you could read the book and still enjoy without knowing Seattle, but having a rough knowledge of the neighborhoods and atmosphere of the city definitely helped me better enjoy the story.