This is a Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple

December 26, 2014

Source: Goodreads
When I asked you all for light, fluffy reads last week, Shannon of River City Reading recommended I check out Where'd You Go, Bernadette.

I wasn't able to get to the library again before leaving, but, as luck would have it, my grandparents have a small library in their condominium. (If I haven't mentioned before, my grandparents live in a 55+ community in Sarasota—if you know anything about Florida, you will find this entirely predictable.) Where'd You Go was lying on the top of one of the stacks, and I snapped it up immediately for a poolside read. I wolfed the entire thing down in just over 30 hours.

This is the story of a family—Elgie, Bernadette and their daughter, Bee, who is about to graduate from middle school with flying colors and wants to celebrate. The moment she requests a family trip to Antarctica, she sends her agoraphobic, socially-avoidant mother into a tailspin, one that (as the title suggests) results in her disappearance from their home in Seattle, Washington. Bee decides to hunt her mother down, piecing together the days before she left through faxes, emails and police reports, and learns much more than expected about her family and (cheesily) herself along the way.

When she told me about it, Shannon described the book as "vacation perfect." She couldn't have been more right—the story moves along at a brisk trot and is intensely funny, with the epistolary style adding to the laughs (you learn about certain events through others' reports, e.g., an emergency room bill, leaving the actual mayhem to the imagination). Bernadette and Bee are sharp and feisty, and you can't help but get sucked in to their us vs. Seattle mentality. (Bernadette really hates Seattle and manages to be hilariously cogent about it. I can't wait to recommend this to one of my friends, a born-and-bred Seattleite—I think she'll love it.)

Still, I hesitate to call this completely fluffy. The book tackles serious subjects like mental illness, miscarriage and neonatal health problems. It doesn't shy away from showing us a woman's slow but steady retreat into herself and what happens when this absorption wins out over her love for her family. This book is more like... sweet potato casserole. A layer of pure sugar-spun enjoyment, something more nourishing and substantial lurking underneath, and, overall, a sweet treat of a story. ("With a healthy serving of fiber," my boyfriend added, when I regaled him with this analogy.)

My quibbles with this book are minor. I would normally complain about the characters' cluelessness and my failure to relate to them (most, if not all, are exceedingly wealthy and think their money grants them invincibility), but it really worked here, and the story wouldn't have been the same without it. Some more fleshing out of certain characters would have been nice, but, again, this book worked just the way it was.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a day-long escape into the drama (both serious and not) of someone else's family. We can all use that over the holidays, right?

If anyone else has read Where'd You Go, Bernadette, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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  1. So glad that you were able to find a copy and read it! I think I often forget that my level of "fluff" is different from others (this is about my peak), but I'm happy to hear it worked out well for you :)

    1. I am too—thank you again for the rec!

      And yes, same here! I definitely need a little substance to keep me interested in "lighter" readers. Even though I've seen this one lauded, it didn't immediately appeal to me because I was afraid it wouldn't have enough going on to keep my attention. I am happy to be proven wrong and to find someone on my same "fluff" wavelength. :)

  2. My thoughts were pretty similar to yours. I had to recommended to me as being laugh out loud funny and while parts were funny it didn't reach that level for me. That being said, I did really enjoy it. Something about the characters, the writing, the format and the plot just really worked for me. I just noticed my library has it in audio and while I wouldn't do a reread of it I'm seriously considering listening to it.

    1. Oh my, I bet an audio version of this story would increase the laughs exponentially! Do you know who does the audio version of it?

      And same here on the book just clicking. I don't think I'd enjoy many other books in a similar vein, but this one really did work!

      Thanks for stopping by. :)

  3. I've never heard of this one and it sounds like I've been missing out. I just love epistolary style books. So I've made a note of this one to add to my reads on my next holiday! :)

    1. It was so great! You'll definitely dig it if you like the epistolary style. It really works here and contributed a great deal to my enjoyment of the book.

      I hope you like it! When's your next vacation planned for? :)