Overview: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
Bernadette Fox hates Seattle. It’s always dreary, full of hipsters, and populated by helicopter moms who seem to have nothing better to do than get on Bernadette’s nerves. She hates leaving her run-down historical home, and most social interactions send her into an anxious tizzy. Bernadette’s only motivation to step outside her comfort zone is her beloved teenaged daughter Bee. Bee is about to graduate middle school with exemplary grades and plans to complete her high school education at the same boarding school Bernadette attended. As a reward for her good grades, Bee has been promised a trip to Antarctica. Bernadette must grapple with her anxiety about going on the trip, finding motivation in her desire to fulfill Bee’s wishes. However, Bernadette’s ongoing fight with a neighbor, her dependency on a shady personal assistant in India, her husband Elgin’s ever-increasing distance from the family, and her memories of the incident that abruptly put an end to her career as a celebrated architect push Bernadette past the point of no return, and she disappears before the family trip.
I’ve been wanting to read Where’d You Go, Bernadette since it was first released in 2012, but it was always impossible to find a copy at the library. It was such a treat to finally read it. Bernadette’s story is told mainly through a collection of e-mails, letters, interviews, and notices compiled by Bee when Bernadette goes missing. Bee fills in the missing pieces of the story throughout the novel. The characters are so well-developed you get a sense of their personalities from the first time they appear. Bernadette’s perfectionist busy-body neighbor is That Mom we all know who lords over the PTA because she has nothing else going on in her life. Elgin is the tech-genius husband who buries himself in his work to avoid his quirky and increasingly out-of-touch-with-reality wife. Bee, wise beyond her years, fervently loves her imperfect mother and weathers the twists and turns in her family life with determination and hope.
While the novel deals with mental illness born out of trauma, it never feels heavy. Semple’s use of satiric humor keeps the mood light. The book is a slice of life, a mystery, an adventure, and a study of social interactions amongst upper-middle class parents all in one, and it works so well.
Rating: 4 out of 5 tickets to Antarctica