Bernadette has problems. Once a promising artist/architect who was into building “green” before green was a thing, Bernadette is now a wittily sarcastic Seattle mom who loathes the upper class suburban hellhole she’s stuck in. She loves her Microsoft hotshot husband and fifteen-year-old daughter, Bee, but she can’t be bothered to try and fit in with the other moms — the “gnats” — at Bee’s private school. In fact, she can’t be bothered to go out at all: growing increasingly anxious in public over the years, Bernadette has hired a personal assistant based in India to take care of most of her errands.
Then trouble strikes: Bee was promised anything she wanted if she got straight As in her classes. The intelligent young teen has no problem doing so, and her wish is to go to Antarctica. And if they’re going to go, they have to go soon: Christmastime in the United States coincides with summertime in Antarctica. Naturally, Bernadette’s anxiety shoots through the roof at the thought of interacting with other people and braving the choppy seas on a last-minute cruise to Antarctica. Throw a couple more wrenches in Bernadette’s life, and she just can’t take it anymore. She disappears.
Determined to find her mother, Bee sifts through countless correspondences and documents to see if her mother left any clues as to her whereabouts; these correspondences make up much of the book’s text. Bee is finally able to piece together a narrative of all the different events that played a role in her mother’s disappearance, but when it comes to her actually finding her mother, Bee hits a dead end. Still, while everyone else is ready to give up, Bee insists that there has to be a good reason behind her mother’s admittedly bizarre actions.
Sound completely ludicrous? That’s because it is. But it’s also deliciously satirical and sardonic and fun. I loved everything about this book, from the hilarious characterizations to the ridiculous plot twists. Semple cleverly name-drops everything from MacArthur genius grants to TED Talks (Bernadette’s husband is famous for his TED Talk). She has fun creating a parodies of high-strung private school moms and life in suburbia. And though it is rooted in humor, the book also beautifully addresses some of people’s most fundamental vulnerabilities. I also had the pleasure of listening to Where’d You Go, Bernadette on audiobook, and Kathleen Wilhoite ended up being one of the best audiobook narrators I’ve ever heard. Seriously, she’s incredible.
This is a book I fully intend to buy for my permanent collection. Since it came out in late summer, it was marketed as a beach read, but hey…part of it takes place in Antarctica, okay? In my book, that makes it perfect for the holidays!
Where’d You Go, Bernadette was released in August 2012 by Little, Brown & Company, an imprint of Hachette Book Group.