Thursday, June 20, 2013

Book review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Goodreads 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.”

This book has been reviewed about a million times during the Cannonball, and it was, in fact, the numerous glowing reviews that encouraged me to pick it up. Several months on the library’s wait-list later, I was finally able to read the book and I was NOT disappointed!

Bernadette is full of characters, each uniquely realized, that leap off the page. For the most part, even the most flawed characters are amusing and likeable. I loved Bee, who is smart and challenging without being obnoxious or bratty; similarly, Bernadette herself is eccentric, naive to a fault, and occasionally petty, but never to the extent that you don’t sympathize with her.

The well-paced plot unfolded unpredictably, yet believably — though at first someone vanishing into thin air seems far-fetched, Semple keeps her finger well enough on the pulse of reality to offer plausible explanations for every twist and missed connection. The book was also, frankly, hilarious. Full of lighthearted satire that doesn’t veer into mean-spirited jibes, the narrative included laugh-out-loud takedowns of Pacific northwest intellectual bourgeoisie types. I don’t want to go on more than is necessary, because I feel like I'll just be babbling about how much I enjoyed this book. So read it!

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