Where’d You Go, Bernadette

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After the last two posts, I needed to read something a little lighter and a lot of fun. Where’d You Go, Bernadette fills those requirements perfectly.  Funny and intelligent, Maria Semple’s words will have you laughing out loud.

But make no mistake.  This book has twists and turns that will have you re-reading paragraphs and wishing you could turn the pages more quickly, just to see what happens next.

Bernadette, Elgie and Bee live in a mouldy old fixer-upper mansion in Seattle.  It needs a LOT of work, and they had plans for it, when they moved in.  But nothing seems to get done.  Bernadette is a former eco-architect, who disappeared from the trade after winning a prestigious award, unable to handle what she had accomplished. Her techie husband is considered a god at Microsoft, her brilliant 15 year old daughter Bee earns a trip to Antarctica for her good grades, and obsessive and agoraphobic Bernadette has no idea which end is up.

Bernadette’s relationships are messy and out of control.  She cannot see issues from anyone else’s perspective, and constantly offends and annoys her uptight neighbours and fellow school moms.  It is not selfishness so much as closed off. She has an assistant she only communicates with by e-mail; a woman in India who bills her monthly for handling day to day issues.  You can guess how that ends.

Bernadette’s life is like an 18-wheeler gone off the road; she has been speeding along, on the edge for so long, that when it ends, it is spectacular.  Everyone wants to stop and take a look. So she does what has served her well (she thinks) in the past: she disappears.

Bee spends the book piecing together her mother’s story, through e-mails and letters, and her own guesswork.  Mistakes are made, misunderstandings abound, and lives are altered.  The story is told from various perspectives (hilarious!), with Bee’s voice weaving it all together.  Although the story centres around Bernadette, it is about Bee.  No one is perfect, but their love for each other triumphs.

The final piece of the puzzle will leave you cheering.

The characters are all larger than life, exaggerated, but still oh-so-human.  The conundrum Elgie finds himself in, with the conversations going on around him, are so so funny and clueless.  The exchanges between the school moms will make you howl (if you’ve ever been on a schoolyard with type A parents blowing sunshine, you will recognize them in Semple’s work).

You and your teens will love this one!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is published by Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company.

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