Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Wow.  If this wasn’t an interesting book…. I went from loving it to hating it to loving it again.  It’s beautifully written, not in a literary sense, but in terms of its economy of language, precision of diction, etc.  And I loved the mixed-media format, from e-mails between Bernadette and her arch rival, Audrey, to narrative passages told from daughter Bee’s point-of-view to Sonia’s, the ‘admin’s’, frank and funny posts.

Really funny, most of this book!  In short, it’s about a wacky family in Seattle, Washington, whose life centers around a sickly thirteen-year-old girl and her ‘unusual’ (to say the least) parents. Beginning with an introduction to the Branchs’ quirky home life, the story takes off when Bernadette’s neighbor complains the Branchs’ blackberry bushes are invading her backyard, an enormous issue because said neighbor (Audrey) is hosting an outdoor fundraiser for the private school their children both attend. Ultimately, as the title suggests, Bernadette goes missing, which sets off a cavalcade of events that take us as far away as the South Pole.

Where I got bogged down was in Bernadette’s backstory–from her years as an aspiring architect in Los Angeles to her current life in Seattle, a place which baffles and confounds her with its 5-way stop lights and its curiously polite denizens, a population almost ‘Canadian’ in its deference. Despite Semple’s deft and humorous treatment, the pace slowed here as these narratives morphed into digressive rants instead of serving to advance the story.

What kept me reading throughout, though, were Semple’s acerbic observations about people, places, things, and the delightful chaos of Bernadette’s daily life. What drew me in at the end, especially, was Bee’s impassioned quest for her mother and Bernadette’s own self-awareness–which elevated the story from simple comedy to a moving narrative replete with pathos, regret, and, ultimately, love.

5 stars

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