Sara's Reviews > Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
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's review
Aug 03, 12

really liked it
bookshelves: giveaways, funny, fiction, satire, seattle, antarctica
Read from July 26 to August 02, 2012

ARC received through the Goodreads First Reads program.

This book could be described as "quirky." Personally, I think that word is horribly overused, and can be a MAJOR red flag when evaluating one's choice of humorous reading material, especially if the focus happens to be on a woman. By the way, whatever happened to the word "eccentric?" It's a great word, and should be used more often. I'm bringing it back.

Bernadette Fox is an eccentric and agoraphobic ex-architect who is married to a Microsoft-employed supergenius named Elgin Branch. Their daughter, Balakrishna (known as Bee), has received straight A's during her tenure in middle school, and thanks to a nearly-forgotten promise, wants to receive a trip to Antarctica in return. This is already a volitile mix, without even accounting for Bernadette's virtual assistant Manjula, Elgin's new admin Soo-Lin, and the neighbor/"gnat"/fellow private school parent Audrey, and you've got the perfect recipe for some kind of disaster. Disaster does indeed ensue, and then Bernadette disappears.

Due to the... eccentric nature of this novel, I was very wary of the first pages. The writing is funny, and stayed on the safe side of preciousness (although it did teeter on the edge a couple of times). I can pin down the exact moment when I really started falling for this novel. It was on page 60, when Bernadette falls asleep in the pharmacy. Up until that point, I was enjoying the book, but after that particular moment, I was totally hooked and could barely put it down. As an added bonus, this is an epistolary novel, which is a format I really enjoy and is hard to pull off well. Maria Semple (who wrote for Arrested Development, yay!) writes using a convincing variety of voices, which really makes the collected e-mails and other documents feel authentic. Bee is a wonderfully depicted precocious teenager. She's young enough to be a pure kid at some times, but old enough to be pragmatic or cynical as the situation calls for. The only weak-ish point (and I just wouldn't be me if I couldn't find something to nitpick about) is the character of Soo-Lin, who takes a couple of rapid turns which aren't ENTIRELY unexpected, but still a bit jarring.

The mystery aspect of the book doesn't dominate the entire book, which is nice. It's brought to a satisfying conclusion, and almost everything is wrapped up neatly. Semple pokes a good bit of fun at Seattle's elite, which is enjoyable, although I haven't spent enough time in Seattle to be able to judge if it's hitting the mark or not. (My suspicion is that it is). I enjoyed it enough that I'm even considering picking up a "real" copy when the book is officially released later this month. (My ARC came to me with a bent cover, sadly). All in all, this was a most enjoyable summer read. It's very funny, it's believable, and it's "so full of that emotion I understand is called love" (Bender almost always says it best).

And did I mention? It's eccentric.

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