Thursday, January 9, 2014

Review: Where'd You go Bernadette?

Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple is a stand alone novel and had quite a bit going on even though it wasn't a really long story.  This is an author I had never heard of before and I have seen a lot of good reviews on various sites.

Synopsis from Barnes and Noble:
Bernadette Fox has vanished.
When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms. Fox is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces.
Which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades. Where'd You Go Bernadette is an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are, and the power of a daughter's love for her mother.
Most of this book is written in correspondence of one type or another from and to various characters in the story.  At first, I found this to be a bit confusing but once I nailed down who each character was and got a better sense of the role each was playing in the story, it was no longer an issue.  
The most interesting thing about the story is the combination of snarky humor and difficult family issues.  I was often laughing at what one character said or what another character did but when you really look underneath the humor, you have some characters in this book that are really suffering.  The reader is exposed to the very real issues of anxiety, agoraphobia, bullying, internet scamming, adultery, and neglect amongst others and this is not to be taken lightly.  What is even more interesting however, is that even though we have some bad behavior, there are really no unlikeable characters.  I disliked all of them at certain moments in the book but once their background stories are shared, I could understand their actions and turn that dislike into compassion and a hope that things would get better for each and every one of them.
Even with all of these deep issues, the story is indeed laugh out loud funny at times and being a mom myself, I could relate to some of the opinions Bernadette had about where she was living and the people she was dealing with.  Her reality was a bit different from most people's and she really made some crazy decisions that had me smacking myself on the forehead and wishing I could just shake her until she saw the error of her ways.
I could empathize a lot with Bee, Bernadette's daughter.  She didn't really have the life of the normal teenager.  What I loved though, was that she just accepted her mom the way she was and was always her advocate. The bond they shared was strong and Bee believed in her mom even when she learned about what was really going on.  She never gave up on her.
This was a good book.  I would probably give it about three and a half stars out of five.  It was both funny and touching.  I'm glad I read it and it made me appreciate my family and all of our small dysfunctional moments.  I think it also reminded me to not judge when people act in a certain way without getting to know the circumstances first.  


  1. I was supposed to read this one last month for book club, but it I never ended up having time. One of the complaints that I heard from one of my coworkers was that the problems in the book are "rich people" problems that she couldn't really relate to... Did you feel this way at all? I still hope to pick this one up sometime, but it isn't really a priority at the moment.

    Thanks for the review!

    1. I didn't find that the fact that they were rich in the story had any bearing on the connections I made to it at all. You can still appreciate and understand everything that goes on in the story, at least in my opinion. If you do pick it up, stop back and let me know what you thought. :)

  2. This book has been sitting on my shelf for months! Thanks for this review - I've finally remembered to actually read it! :) nice review!

    -Kimi of Geeky Chiquitas

  3. Nice review! I liked this book, and how quirky Bernadette was. :)

  4. I really loved this book - I could relate to Bernadette and her feeling of being invisible. It was very funny at times - and loved the ending (no details ;)!), I love the women she meets at the support group too - I think this author really has an understanding of women's issues!