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

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March 24, 2016
While browsing through this books’ Goodreads page, I saw someone compare it to Gilmore Girls and I knew right then that I needed to read it. Gilmore Girls was a perfect show with a fantastic cast of characters and I mourn its demise (and celebrate its revival!) every single day, so that was plenty of reason to make it a must read, but also probably why it took me so long to actually get to it. You know me and my expectations!

With only that in mind, I embarked into the most delightful yet confusing reading experience of the past two years as I, too, wondered, Where'd you go, Bernadette?

In this book we follow a young girl named Bee Branch and her eccentric parents, Elgin Branch, who's a software developer at Microsoft, and Bernadette Fox, an agoraphobic and socially anxious former architect.

The story sets off after Bee collects on a promise her parents made a few years before that they might have forgotten, but she never did: If she does well and gets perfect grades throughout middle school, they will gift her anything she wants. Bee's request? A family cruise trip to Antarctica!

To Bernadette, this is problematic. She already hates something as simple as leaving the house, so why would she willingly sign up to be stuck in a cruise ship with strangers, headed for such a desolate place? The pressure and stress of this request start getting the best of Bernadette until one day she just... disappears, leaving everyone to figure out how, why, and most importantly, where?

This book is a riot! I don’t remember any of the last 50 books I’ve read making me laugh so much, so often and keeping me so engaged that putting the book down just wasn’t an option. I can definitely see the comparisons with Gilmore Girls because this book is filled with pop culture references, intelligent, witty characters, and it puts a lot of emphasis in the relationship Bee has with her mother. It also has that moving and heart-warming quality of highlighting how important family is, especially the bond between a mother and her children.

Though it is a very easy read, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is by no means fast paced and at times it dwells too much on certain aspects of the plot, recording the same facts from different sources. As it is, the way the story’s old is different and unusual. This book reads as a file that Bee (with some help) is putting together in an effort to unravel her mom’s mysterious disappearance, compiling letters, emails, magazine clippings, police reports, etc., that help create a timeline, as well as try to make sense of Bernadette’s odd behavior and subsequent vanishing. This style of writing makes for a very quick read, albeit somewhat confusing because you’re not only hearing about these various events from one narrator, but several. From a nosy neighbor to even Bernadette herself, all of these people’s POV help put together the facts as Bee moves forward trying to find her mom, with Bee herself filling in the gaps along the way.

And while, yes, it is confusing and somewhat overwhelming at first to keep the characters straight, it also makes the book that much more entertaining. The characters are all different and well developed, though somewhat exaggerated at times given the satirical aspects of the novel. I enjoyed reading the different points of view, even while hating some of the characters (Soo-Lin!!!) because you could see their development as the story progressed and that’s something you rarely see in books. Secondary characters are usually just there for one purpose, to push the main character’s development along, and in Where’d You Go, Bernadette the secondary characters managed to do just that while doing some growing of their own.

This type of storytelling also helped me understand the main character, Bernadette, better. Not only did I get a glimpse into her head by way of reading her emails, but I also got to see how other people saw her. This person who is considered a genius by some, a nuisance by others, who in reality is just someone paralyzed by fear of (past, present and future) failure, made for such a real, relatable character, and all the crazy things she does to avoid having to deal with people on a daily basis made me go from being really annoyed by her character and her quirks, to agreeing and sympathizing with her, and yes, even wishing I had my very own virtual assistant!

As far as the plot goes, I will admit I did find it a little far-fetched, but not so bad that I couldn't suspend my disbelief and think that, sure, these things probably happen to rich people all the time! My only complaint is that there were certain storylines that felt too dramatic and unnecessary (I won’t mention them to avoid spoilers, but if you’ve read the book, you know what I’m talking about! Ugh, Elgin) and when it came to wrap up the story, Maria Semple broke out of the epistolary form and let Bee take over the narration, leaving some loose ends flying around.

Overall, this was a super fun read. It was unexpected how much I ended up enjoying this book that I had put off reading so many times before! I laughed numerous times and flew through it as I tried to figure out where Bernadette had gone, and the ending (with all that it felt abrupt and lacking closure) gave me lots of warm feelings, which is always a plus! I will never not love a book that makes me feel things.

2 comments on "Book Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple #ReadWomenMarch"
  1. This book got so trendy for a while that, while I picked up a secondhand copy for my TBR, I was worried would it would be disappointing. Glad to hear it's not and can't wait to read it!

    1. I think the hype was what got me to buy my copy at a library sale last summer, too, and I put off reading it for the longest time. When I finally picked it up, I didn't know much going in and ended up being pleasantly surprised! Hope you enjoy it, too!


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