Where’d You Go, Bernadette

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Hi all!

I have a lovely book to share with you today. I went on a reading splurge and read it all in a day yesterday. It was fantastic. And since I had a little time, I thought I’d review it for you!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette tells the story of one family. The father is Elgin Branch, most commonly called Elgie, who is a high-up Microsoft employee, a workaholic, and a reader of presidential biographies. The daughter is Bee Branch, a brilliant fifteen-year-old girl who is super-smart, constantly helping others, especially younger kids. Really responsible and very bright. The mother is Bernadette Fox, a mysterious, slightly manic, slightly depressed woman who’s past and future blend as she makes certain decisions about her life. She is a bit crazy and also a bit uninformed and naive. Those things start to melt together. There are also some minor characters; namely Soo-Lin Lee-Segal and Audrey Griffin. 

The story (with Bee, the daughter, as the narrator) starts as Bee is in the eighth grade, in November. Her parents had told her years ago that if she got perfect grades (though it’s an effort-based system and there are technically no real grades) in school for elementary/middle school, she could have whatever she wanted. So at dinner one night after seeing her report card, Bee declares that she wants the family to take a trip to Antarctica. Granted, they’re a very wealthy family, but her parents are both surprised and taken aback by this. They seemed to have forgotten about this deal, and said it was to stave off her pleas for a pony. But they stay true to their word and promise that they will take a trip to Antarctica aboard the special cruise on the dates Bee laid out. 

As the story progresses, it becomes very clear that the parents have very different view about this trip. Bernadette, who had always been an eclectic character before, started becoming more and more irrational in her actions, it seems. Meanwhile, Elgie was completely supportive and working away at Microsoft on the Samantha2 technology, the branch he worked for. 

Elgin finds out through various sources about several problems with his wife, especially involving drugs and their neighbor, Audrey Griffin. He decides that she needs psychological help, and he will go on the trip alone with Bee. But in the middle of the most dramatic scene, Bernadette disappears. 

What ensues is an epic search for her across several continents, legal procedures, and old documentation. At the end, (to spoil what you could expect coming) Bernadette is found and though lives have shifted dramatically, they all pretty much live happy ever after. 

I loved this book as a quick-read fiction. It is composed of an initially-odd collection of documents and correspondences that are really fun and easy to read through. The book can get really drama-packed at parts, which makes me want to read even more. That can sometimes in quick-read fiction be a poor choice, but Maria Semple balances it well. 

Besides the documents, emails, etc. that compose the novel, there are sections of Bee’s narrative too. I can’t express how much I love Bee. She’d definitely be a best friend of mine. Her voice is emotional without being overly sappy, right portraying a teenager without seeming too old or too young. She makes this book really approachable for teens. I’d definitely recommend it. 

The book’s funny, witty, and an easy read. I suppose when you take a new lens to it it might be different or harder (as with anything). As a vacation read book for any teenager or adult, it gets four and a half stars from me. Not perfect because a lot of the end was composed of narrative and dialogue and not documents, which lost some consistency. I think it could’ve been cool if Bee had written a journal or something and used that as a filler instead of the strictly-narrative part. 

Read this book for the clever, witty moments, the harsh realities, and the awesome narrative (especially for teens). Pick up a copy next time you’re on vacation, and I can say it surely did its job for me!

Nicole

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