Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Summary: 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. -- Little, Brown

Another book that has received a lot of buzz at this year's BEA was WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple. I reviewed her debut novel THIS ONE IS MINE a few years ago and was very impressed with her comedic writing; however, this novel sounded even better to me. And how about that cover? Doesn't it just scream wacky? I can assure you that it's captures the essence of this very funny story perfectly!

WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? is 15 year old Bee's story about her mother Bernadette Fox. Bernadette is an extremely unique character (and that's being kind!) She was once a brilliant architect in Los Angeles, but after a traumatic event, she moves with her family to Seattle and becomes a recluse. She even hires a virtual private assistant who lives in India to manage her daily life. All of her neighbors and the moms at Bee's school think she's crazy... and they might be right; however, Bee's just knows her as her mom and her best friend.

When Bee decides that she wants her parents to take her to Antarctica for her perfect report card (they did promise her anything!), Bernadette can't imagine leaving her house nevertheless taking a ship the entire way to Antarctica, but she plays along and begins planning and organizing the trip... for awhile. But then, Bernadette mysteriously disappears without a trace! Bee decides that she has to track down her mother, so she begins collecting information about her that might give her some clues to her mother's whereabouts. Throughout this personal journey, Bee begins to see her mother (and father) in a new light; and she also learns the true meaning of the word family!

WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? is unlike any book I've ever read -- and I mean that in the best possible way. It's smart and funny (and even a bit crazy), and I definitely laughed a lot while reading it (and even when I wasn't); however, it's also a touching story about a troubled woman and her relationship with her daughter. I adored this very original book and read it in one sitting!

One thing that I absolutely loved about this novel was how the story was told. WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE?, is basically an epistolary novel made up of email messages, letters, and articles about Bernadette's past and present life. While parts of the story are told in Bee's own words, the majority of the novel is the information that Bee collected while searching for her mother. Because the story was made up of fairly brief snippets, it was not only a quick read, but it was also one that was hard to put down.

Another great thing about WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? was how entertaining the plot and characters were. I hope I've gotten this point across already, but this story is crazy; and I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next. In addition, Bernadette was nuttier than a fruitcake (and for part of the novel, I had no idea why!), and the rest of the cast (except maybe for Bee) was also a bit odd. I also loved that the book had a mystery that needed to be solved. I honestly couldn't even begin to imagine what happened to Bernadette or where she'd gone.

Finally, I appreciated how well Ms. Semple "did" satire in this novel, and I don't think it's a fluke because I remember being very impressed with this in her last novel too. In a relatively short novel, the author managed to poke fun at so many things including Microsoft, corporate culture, Seattle, and volunteer moms; and I thought her observations and insights were spot-on -- in addition to being hilarious!

There is no doubt that Ms. Semple, who was once a writer for the television series Arrested Development, is a major force to be reckoned with as far as writing goes. I loved her character development and just how funny and compelling this story was, but at the same time, I appreciated that she did tackle some serious issues in this novel. I think it must be hard to balance so much humor with a touching story, but Ms. Semple managed to do it (and do it well) in WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE?

I absolutely loved how fresh and funny WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? was. Highly recommended if you are looking for a fun and zany read or if you're a fan of Arrested Development.

I received a copy of this novel at BEA 2012.


Beth F said...

Yes! I loved this book too. Great review. I too was never quite sure where the book was going next. So much fun.

Karlie said...

I love Arrested Development! She sounds like a very funny and gifted writer. Thanks for the review!

Serena said...

I just read Candace's review. This one sounds like another winner from this author. I best read the other one and then this one...don't want to get too far behind.

help4newmoms said...

This review is terrific and because of it...I am off to get Where'd You Go, Bernadette. Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful review!

bermudaonion said...

I hope I can get to this one soon. It sounds like just the kind of book I need right now!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Wow, this one sounds so fun! I'll look corit for sure!

Unknown said...

I have this one on my shelf, and I may have to move it up in line (I could use something funny and touching!). Great review, as always, Julie, thank you!!