Where’d You Go, Bernadette

wheredyou goWhere’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel
Maria Semple
Little, Brown and Company, 335 pages
Kindle Edition  $4.99, Amazon Paperback  $9.15, Amazon Mass Market Paperback  $7.20

Bernadette is the mother of Bee, a student in a private Seattle school focused on self-esteem, where the lowest grade one can get is “strives for excellence.” Dad works at Microsoft. Much of the book is narrated by Bee, but large portions are represented as emails, faxes, handwritten notes, and legal documents.

The book starts out as a spoof of Seattle life in general and Microsoft culture in particular. The first third of the book is a light romp. It is only later that we learn why the family is in Seattle and why Bernadette is as anti-social as she has become. She was, it turns out, once a skilled, innovative architect in Southern California. Due to a series of unfortunate events, the house she labored over was bulldozed and she spun into depression. Her husband sold his animation business to Microsoft and they moved to Seattle where Bee was born.

Along the way we see how Bernadette relates to the other school parents, we see her husband’s relationships with her and with his co-workers, and we observe the snarkiness of the other parents towards Bernadette. We also see how Bee tries to cope.

It is only in the last third of the book that Bernadette actually disappears, and in the last thirty pages or so the book becomes a sort of mystery thriller in which Bee and her father piece together the evidence to figure out where they might find Bernadette.

The book is entertaining, fast-paced and insightful. What starts out as a fun read ends with serious insights into family, relationships, career, and priorities. The author had me hooked before I ever saw it coming.

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