Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, BernadetteMaria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Bernadette Fox is a middle-aged wife and mother who is having so much trouble coping with daily life that she outsources all her errands to a virtual Indian assistant. Her loving husband, Elgin, has made a fortune working for Microsoft but is never home as a result. Her 15-year-old daughter, Bee, is always a source of joy, but the other parents at Bee’s school for gifted children drive Bernadette crazy. As Bernadette struggles with social anxiety, hostile neighbors, a house that’s falling apart, and an unexpected visit from the FBI, things slowly begin to slip through the cracks — until one day she vanishes. Devastated, Bee sets out on a quest to find her mother, compiling all the documentary evidence she can find that might give her a clue to Bernadette’s whereabouts. Bee’s search for her mom eventually takes her as far as Antarctica, and it also gives her a greater understanding of Bernadette’s personality by unearthing secrets from her past.

I was a little nervous to read this book, fearing that it wouldn’t live up to the hype, but luckily there was no need to worry! Normally I would have little patience for someone like Bernadette, who doesn’t seem to realize how priveleged she is, with a loving family and plenty of money. But Bernadette is just self-aware enough to realize the ridiculousness of her behavior, so I was able to look past the more obnoxious aspects of her personality. Also, this book is really funny; I especially enjoyed the e-mail conversations between Audrey and Soo-Lin, two of the other parents at Bee’s school, who both hate Bernadette. I loved the book’s quasi-epistolary format — it’s basically a collection of the documentes Bee finds while searching for her mom, with some narration by Bee — and I loved that there was a plausible reason for how Bee obtained all these documents. All in all, this book went much more quickly than I thought it would, and I’d definitely recommend it as a fun vacation read!