The Book Report

‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ is a wacky adventure sure to amuse readers

More stories from Erica Jones

DIY diaries
May 9, 2018


Maria Semple’s novel, ‘Where’d You Go Bernadette’ is sure to keep readers on their toes.

Usually it is children who go missing, but in Maria Semple’s novel “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” it is the mother who disappears, leaving her daughter to play detective and figure out where she went.

Bernadette Fox, “the most influential architect no one has ever heard of,” is a rather unusual parent who always gets strange looks from the other mothers and fathers at her daughter’s school. Bee Branch, said daughter, knows her mother is an interesting woman, but loves her despite her eccentricities.

At the very beginning of the novel, Bee’s parents are praising her for the good grades she received on her eighth report card and she reminds them of their promise she could have any present she wants if she got top marks. Immediately, she proposes a family trip to Antarctica and her parents agree.

To book the trip, Fox emails her assistant in India. This is the first glimpse readers get into a side of her life she may be hiding. This assistant comes up again and again in the novel, arranging and fixing things for Fox and acting almost as a therapist as he must listen to all her woes.

Elgin Branch, Bee’s father, is a superstar at Microsoft. At one point, he begins working with Soo-Lin Lee-Segal, one of the PTA moms Fox despises, the best friend of her arch nemesis, Audrey Griffin. The two become progressively closer, much to Griffin’s displeasure and Fox’s ignorance.

As the novel progresses, readers begin to see Fox’s insecurities and fears revealed; for example, she is mostly house-bound and afraid of being surrounded by other people. She also hates living in Seattle and wishes she could go back to Los Angeles.

Soon enough, an FBI agent comes to Elgin and tells him Fox is being scammed by a virtual assistant agency out of India. The file about her details a few of her strange acts and a doctor deems the idea of a trip to Antarctica the reason Fox has a psychotic break.

After a surprise intervention, Fox disappears and the rest of the novel centers around her daughter’s schemes to get her to come back home and understand what happened, with twists around every corner.

The novel has a 3.9-star rating on Goodreads and a 4.2 on Amazon. My rating would likely be right around the 4-star range as well. I found the book enjoyable and unexpected, but it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read.

It’s quirky, humorous and written in an epistolary form, meaning instead of containing chapters, it’s written as a series of letters — some being Bee’s diary entries and some being emails from one PTA mom to another, among other correspondences.

This form keeps the story interesting because it’s not written as a straightforward sequence of events and the perspective always changes; however, readers typically only see what the characters are writing to each other, thus we are at times left in the dark about what’s happening elsewhere in the plot.

I found myself rereading parts of the book so I could connect the dots better, but I believe the novel to be intentionally ambiguous at points so readers don’t get too far ahead of the author. Semple keeps readers on their toes, as what happens next is almost never predictable.

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” is a fun read almost anyone should be able to enjoy; some of us with wackier families may even find ourselves relating to certain aspects of it. Either way, pick up a copy and see for yourself where Bernadette went. The book is available to check out through the Inter-Library Loan at the McIntyre Library.