You may have noticed we’re a little behind in our book reviews, but springtime is always so busy… so we’re hoping our readers haven’t caught up either!
Our March book was Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. Laura chose it, but then she popped out baby Cooper, so that’s why I’m writing the review. I think that’s a good enough reason, right? Right.
This book was unlike any we’d read before because it was almost entirely (like, 98%) comprised of correspondence – emails (mostly), documents, articles etc. They’re all strung together by Bee, a mature and super-smart teenage girl in Seattle. The story focuses on the disappearance of Bee’s mother Bernadette, who was once a very famous architect. Bee’s father Elgie is a big-shot with Microsoft and is, almost understandably, busy a lot.
Bernadette, struggling with a heart-breaking and unforgettable architecture incident (which is only revealed at the end), isolates herself from others, particularly “gnats” – the mothers of the kids at Bee’s prestigious private school. When Bee’s perfect grades earn her a family trip to Antarctica, Bernadette’s anxiety spirals out of control and she takes off. Bee maintains hope that she’ll find her mother, while Elgie is not so optimistic.
I did some research and found out that the author’s background is in television comedy. This comes as no surprise. Semple paints a hysterically real picture of the small community and drama that surrounds private schools. The mothers are competitive, judgmental and often act more as high-school mean girls than as responsible, sensible parents. Many of the believable incidents are laugh-out-loud funny, especially if you’ve experienced similar situations before.
Indirectly and more earnestly, the novel makes some assertions about parenting, and how simultaneously frustrating, draining and wonderful it can be. It also pokes fun at Seattle and the Microsoft empire, as well as private school systems in general. But even when being funny, Semple is refreshing in her jovial, quirky tone and style.
This was a light, fun springtime read that resonated personally because I went to a very small private school with a similar cast of characters. My only criticism was that the end was a bit convenient – how we learn about Bernadette’s horrifying, career-stalling mishap and how Bee ultimately is reunited with her mother is a little too… “teenage romantic comedy-esque” for my liking. But it’s cute, kooky and entertaining, so the UBC gave it an average of 4 stars (out of 5).
Discussion questions for Where’d You Go, Bernadette:
- How did you feel about Bernadette’s character? Was she likable, or not? Can you relate to her at all?
- Why do you think the trip to Antarctica puts Bernadette over the edge, especially when she ultimately goes on the trip and finds peace/happiness anyway?
- The novel primarily uses emails and correspondence to tell the story. How was this effective and how was it not?
- The author is clearly a comedian. How do you think her comedic, playful style helps or hinders the plot?
- If you could change one part about this book to improve it, what would it be and why?