Up Late with Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Have you ever had one of those terrible book hangovers? You’ve just finished the best book you read all year, and it talked about philosophy and relationships and deep, heavy concepts, and you cannot imagine reading another book and you’re sure any book you pick up won’t hold your interest. If that’s the case, you need to read Where’d you go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. My mom gave me her copy with rave reviews earlier in the year, and my sister just told me, oh, that book is hilarious, you have to read it. So I picked it up before bed, thinking, I’ll just read a chapter or two….two hours later, I dropped off to sleep, anxious to finish the book. So, I woke up the next day, made coffee, and didn’t stop until the book was done.

The humor in this book and the one-line zingers is half the reason to read it. The other half would be the characters. Bee (short for Balakrishna) has decided to figure out where her mother disappeared to just before they left for a family trip to Antarctica (a reward for Bee doing well at her private school in Seattle, where they live). The story is told through a variety of letters, emails, reports, and first person narrative of Bee. She examines the relationships her mother, Bernadette, had with the other moms at the Galer school (she called them gnats, if that’s any indication). She examines the relationship her mother had with her father (who works at Microsoft), and she even includes emails from her mother to her personal assistant (Manuja, in India). Bee is a precocious eighth-grader and the wry humor and narrative style interjected after the emails and exchanges is hilarious.

Here’s an example of the prose when Bernadette talks about Ikea: “You know what it’s like when you go to Ikea, and you can’t believe how cheap everything is, and even though you may not need a hundred tea lights, my God, there only ninety-nine cents for the bag? Or: Sure the throw pillows are filled with a squishy ball of no-doubt toxic whatnot, but there’s so bright and three-for-five-dollars that before you know if you’ve dropped five hundred bucks, not because you needed any of this crap, but because it was so damn cheap?”

And while the book is fun and funny, there are some great life lessons in it. At one point, Bernadette stops the car because Bee’s friend says she is bored. “That’s right, you’re bored. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.” Of course, Bee’s friend cries (and never returns for a playdate), but Bee never says she’s bored again.

One of my favorite elements of this book, aside from the humor, was that it surprised me– genuinely surprised me. It is rare a plot twist can do that for me. There is an alliance formed in the book that I didn’t expect and it made the end of the book that much better for me. I highly suggest this as a summer read–it is quick, funny, and will cure any kind of hangover (well, at least the book-type).


Posted by Kate, VP Secondary PCTELA

Up Late with Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

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