Spoiler Alert: This review contains some spoilers
Where’d You Go Bernadette (WYGB) written by Maria Semple is a witty and entertaining read, telling the story of Bernadette, who disappears two days before a family trip to Antarctica. Bee, Bernadette’s fifteen year old daughter narrates the story, piecing it together through various documents – emails, invoices, memos, etc – and her own clever insights.
Writing a book is never easy, and using this format to effectively tell your story adds its own challenges. Semple manages to create a story that is compelling and complex. She uses this format to excellently enhance every aspect of the story.. The characters each have their own quirks, adding a realness that allows the reader to connect to them or really dislike them on a personal level.
Bernadette herself is witty and sharp, a genius architect who always seems to be running away from life, Her attitude towards Seattle’s elite, Microsoft, the helicopter parents at her daughters private school, is in a way a satirical comment on Seattle and how it is now. Bernadette has a past riddled with complications that only begin to explain how she became to be the person she is today. Despite her dislike for seattle and borderline rude treatment of other characters, she ends up being likeable and funny. Just like a real person she has her flaws and her redeeming qualities.
Bernadette is not an exception. Semple creates characters that are real enough to connect to. Like her mom, Bee is funny and easy to like despite the occasional teenage tantrum. Bee is close to Bernadette and her disappearance causes significant changes in Bee’s world. Elgin – her husband, is a little harder to judge. He’s a quirky tech guru for Microsoft that is famed for having the 4th most watched Ted talk in the world. He tries his best to be a good husband and father but his love for Microsoft and Seattle, constantly tear at his relationship with his family. He’s not as bold as his wife and daughter, and is easily manipulated by the people around him.
Semples use of non conventional writing techniques definitely sets her novel apart from others in the genre. However, it’s not the first time I’ve read a book in this format. In fact Meg Cabot has an entire series written in this format. Not that I’m complaining, I love this format and it was definitely part of the reason I enjoyed WYGB as much as I did. Semple does a great job at hinting about things to come without actually exposing chunks of the plot. Unexpected alliances, shocking twists, and ultimately a surprising yet warm ending, make this book a pleasure to read.
Though the story was nowhere near what I expected, I loved it. It’s been awhile since I read a book I enjoyed as much as this one. I definitely urge you to add it to your reading list. If my review doesn’t convince you, maybe the awards its won, will 😉
“That’s right,’ she told the girls. ‘You are 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.”
“Can you believe the weather?’…’Actually, I CAN believe the weather. What I can’t believe is that I’m actually having a conversation about the weather.
“One of the main reasons I don’t like leaving the house is because I might find myself face to face with a Canadian.”
“Its like a hypnotist put everyone from Seattle into a collective trance. “You are getting sleepy, when you wake up you will want to live only in a Craftsman house, the year won’t matter to you, all that will matter is that the walls will be thick, the windows tiny, the rooms dark, the ceilings low, and it will be poorly situated on the lot.”
“Just because it’s complicated, just because you think you can’t ever know everything about another person, it doesn’t mean you can’t try.”