Okay so I am finally chipping away at My Summer Reading List. The first book I have checked off the list is “Where’d You Go Bernadette” by Maria Semple. Since I have been traveling quite a bit this summer and also constantly heading into NYC for job interviews I have had more time to read. I have to say my favorite part about commuting into the city is having a solid hour where I can just sit and read without any excuse. I started reading “Where’d You Go Bernadette” on my way to Florida to visit my cousins and was finished within a matter of days on the train to NYC. I was really excited to start this book because of all of its positive reviews. Initially my mom had mentioned it to me, she read it as part of a book club and thought I would really enjoy it. Quickly I started seeing this unique cover all over the place. From Lauren Conrad’s book club to constantly showing up on bestseller lists, I knew that I needed to delve into this book to see what all the hype was about.
As a whole I really enjoyed this book. When it comes to reading, I do not really have a favorite genre or type of book. Instead, I like when books surprise me. This is also how I feel about TV shows and movies, I hate when I can guess the endings, to me it is like what’s the point? Cue Becca from Pitch Perfect. The genre of books I read will switch from young adult fiction to autobiographies easily and I enjoy them equally. I tend to pick books based off of suggestions and most of the time I agree with the earlier reviews that I was given, “Where’d You Go Bernadette” certainly fits within this category.
This book was an easy read, which flowed nicely and kept me interested. I will attempt to keep from revealing too much about the story; I do not want to take away the best surprises or anything! The story follows Bee Branch, the daughter of Bernadette Fox, as she pieces together emails, letters and other documents to find her missing mother. Bee’s father, Elgie, works at Microsoft and her mother Bernadette is a former award-winning architect. The three live in Seattle and it is clear from the get go that Bernadette does not fit in. The mothers of other students at Bee’s prep school think that Bernadette is crazy, and so do her husbands colleagues at Microsoft. This does not seem to bother Bernadette, and she even calls these women “gnats.” Bee knows how much her mother loves her and recognizes that she has always been there for her, regardless of the opinions of others.
The book begins with Bee coming to her parents to cash in on a promise that they made her. They said that if Bee made all S grades (Surpasses Excellence) than they would give her anything she wants for her middle school graduation gift. Bee decides on a family trip to Antarctica. Bernadette is agoraphobic and even hires a virtual assistant from India named Manjula Kapoor. Bernadette relies on Manjula for even the most basic tasks such as booking dinner reservations in Seattle. Bernadette continues to rely on Manjula for the preparations for Antarctica. From her many years of living in a town she despises and planning a trip very far outside her comfort zone, Bernadette is on the brink of a meltdown. After a school fundraiser that goes dangerously awry, Bernadette disappears and leaves her family to pick up the pieces. That is exactly what Bee does, weaving together the emails, letters, and other documents that relate to her mother and she works to reveal where her mother is hiding.
Since this book is written as a compiled list of emails, letters, and documents it reminded me of the epistolary form of writing that I learned about in my English lit classes. Examples of these books are Lady Susan by Jane Austen or The Coquette by Hannah Webster Foster. I enjoyed reading this books in class because this style of narrative allows the reader to truly understand what the character is feeling because it is written solely in their words to another. I have not read a contemporary epistolary novel, so it was interesting to read, “Where’d You Go Bernadette,” instead of simply letters it also included the multiple types of communication we use today. The book is also broken up into three main sections, which I appreciated given that I was traveling while reading, it provided perfect moments to stop and return to later.
As a whole I really enjoyed reading this book, because of its dynamic characters and interesting plot twists. Bernadette’s opinion of the “gnats” in her town reminded me of some of the moms I have encountered in my own town while I grew up. I also found the love of a daughter for her mother to be so inspiring and incredibly loyal that it was hard not to think about my own relationship with my mom. I will say, however, that near the end of the books the twists became almost too much, and were sometimes hard to follow. I appreciated that this novel definitely surprised me, however I found the ending/the last letter to be somewhat anticlimactic and I somehow guessed what would happen. If I were to rate “Where’d You Go Bernadette” I would give it four out of five stars. It is interesting, surprising, and written in a form that is not as common in contemporary novels. I docked one star because by the end of the novel it felt a little dragged out and was somewhat hard to follow.
This is certainly a book that I would recommend to friends and is a perfect summer/vacation/beach reading option. It is fantastically written and continues to reveal the different layers of each character. If you are looking for a new poolside read, definitely consider adding “Where’d You Go Bernadette” to your list!
Have you read, “Where’d You Go Bernadette”? What did you think? Would you recommend it to a friend?