Bernadette Fox might be a brilliant architect but she also has just a little problem with her people skills. That little problem led to big problems, and when her husband, Elgin Branch, was offered a top-tier job with Microsoft, she was happy to move to Seattle. Well, she liked the real estate prices. All right, in truth, she hates the city with its wholesome goodness and five-street intersections.
Bernadette is not like the other moms at Galer Street School, but fourteen-year-old Bee is just fine with that. Her mom is one of her besties, even if she isn't exactly Donna Reed. Despite her lack of cooking skills, her abandonment of her career, and her reliance on a virtual assistant (located in India), Bernadette loves her daughter and is all ears when Bee announces what she wants for an early graduation present.
The trip to Antarctica came as a bit of shock. Okay, it came as a big shock: Bernadette hates to travel, can't stand the thought of being cooped up on a ship with strangers, and gets seasick. On the other hand, she can't deny Bee her trip, and besides, all the necessary online shopping for cold-weather clothes and supplies sounds like it could be fun.
There's just one tiny glitch: The police, the Galer Street School, the neighbors, an architecture graduate student, the FBI, and the Russian mob have all taken a sudden interest in Bernadette. And on the eve of departure . . . Bernadette departs. Alone. She is last seen on a ship somewhere off the coast of Antarctica. Is she dead or alive? Is she hiding or does she want to be found? Bee compiles all the known documents, files, e-mails, and memos concerning her mother and attempts to solve the mystery.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple's second novel, is more than the story of the Branch family and the puzzle of Bernadette's disappearance. Through humor moderated with more poignant moments, Semple takes a jab at helicopter moms, overworked techno geeks, private middle schools, and today's families. It's a fun story about how little things can quickly spin out of control, especially when Bernadette is involved.
As in her first novel, Semple proves to be a master at creating characters who are a touch crazy but not quite over the top. You'll love Bee, the tolerant daughter and perfect student who struggles with her emotions after her mother vanishes. And you'll laugh with and cry for Bernadette and Elgin and their unique relationship and individual worldviews.
Although most of the novel is told through the documents Bee assembles about her family, Semple makes it easy to picture even the most minor characters. You'll especially remember the uptight next-door neighbor, the enthusiastic school fund-raiser, the insecure underling at Microsoft, and even the virtual assistant.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a spunky and smart look at modern life and what happens when you try to put a lid on creative energy. Maria Semple is now on my permanent must-read list.
Here's a great video in which Semple attempts to explain what Where'd You Go, Bernadette is all about.
For more about Maria Semple, be sure to check out her website, where you can see other reviews, her tour schedule, and more. You can also like her author Facebook page.
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Published by Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown, 2012
Source: Review (see review policy)
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