Book Discussion: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Book Discussion: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Whered You Go Bernadette by Maria SempleI love book club discussion questions! These are the questions for Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple from the Little and Brown website.

If you’ve read this book I want to discuss it with you!

If you haven’t read this book, here’s why you should!

SPOILERS AHEAD

1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is told from the point of view of a daughter trying to find her missing mother. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story from Bee’s perspective? What light does it shed on the bond between Bernadette and Bee? Bee was the least biased character in the book.  She was a window to show the exaggeration of all the adults around her.  I think it shows how close they were since Bee didn’t give up hope and collected a huge amount of documents just to find her.

2. What are your thoughts on Bernadette’s character? Has she become unhinged or has she always been a little crazy? What, if anything, do you think sent her over the edge? Have you ever had a moment in your own life that utterly changed you, or made you call into question your own sanity? I thought her character was a little extreme.  At the beginning of her life she picks a fight and holds a grudge to the point that she loses her house.  She was very hot headed.  I think her extreme swings in personality were a little crazy.  She then became apathetic when she went to Seattle to the point that their house sounded like a health hazard. I wonder if it was the miscarriages that really sent her over the edge.  I think at first it seems like she was moping over her lost house, but I think she was really mourning for her lost kids.  It was an interesting experience reading about her because from an outside perspective she did seem a little crazy, but at the same time she was so relatable that it felt like I really understood why she did things.  Maybe crazy people are just people who have motivations that we can’t see or don’t understand.  In my own life I wondered if I could even handle having a kid.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but three kids later it’s also the best thing I’ve ever done.  Hard things make you grow the most.

3. When Bernadette relocates from Los Angeles to Seattle, she must cope with being a transplant in a new city. Have you ever moved, or even stayed put but switched jobs, and had to adjust to an entirely different culture? What was it like? I moved a lot when I was first married and I really empathized with Bernadette feeling outside the community.  To feel a part of any community you have to make an effort.  Being on the outside feels like this constant, small fear that you are doing something wrong or that there is something wrong with you.  It’s unsettling and I could see that her reaction would be to hate all her neighbors.

4. The idea of going to Antarctica becomes too much for an already frazzled Bernadette to bear, but the trip itself, surprisingly, turns out to be exactly what she needs to get back on track. How do other characters in the novel experience their own breakthroughs? Which character is most transformed? I kind of think her gossipy neighbor, Audrey, changed the most.  She really started to see Bernadette’s side of the story and put other people first.  Audrey faced reality for the first time and dealt with it better than I thought she would.  Bee realizes she wants to stay with her family.  Bee’s father realizes he works too much.

5. How are Audrey Griffin and Bernadette Fox more alike than they realize? This question surprised me.  I think the thing that they have most in common is that they are a little disconnected with reality.  I couldn’t think of anything else!

6. Bernadette often behaves as if she is an outsider. Do you think she is? If so, do you think her feelings of being an outsider are self-imposed, or is she truly different from the other members of her community? Do you ever feel like an outsider? I think she is different from the community but that doesn’t mean you have to be an outsider.  Like I said before, feeling outside a community often comes from distancing yourself from the community or not being involved or not putting yourself out there.

7. The book has a very playful structure. Do you think it works? Why do you think the author chose it rather than a more straightforward, traditional structure? Think about other books with unusual structures and how their formats influenced your reading experience.   I love the structure and humor of the novel.  I wish more literary fiction was written this way.  I would read more of it if it was.  I think this structure added to the mystery since it allowed you to come to your own conclusions by seeing things from many perspectives but without being confusing.  I also think it did a great job of showing the story so the reader could use their imagination which made it very entertaining and fun to read.  I can’t think of many stories that have a unique structure but one that comes to mind is Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children that was partially told through photographs.

8. What do you think of Bernadette and Elgie’s marriage? Is it dysfunctional? Is there real love there? How has their marriage changed over time? Think about romantic relationships you’ve been in that have evolved, positively or negatively, and why. I don’t think it’s dysfunctional but they have grown apart.  I think they do love each other, but they have stopped talking to each other and have stopped trying.  They had different expectations about the other person and about their relationship.  Elgie just assumed that Bernadette must be happy and would start doing her work again eventually.  He doesn’t really bother to find out why she never fixes their house.

9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is, at its core, a story about a woman who disappears, both literally and figuratively. Were you able to relate to the book? How and why? Do you feel Bernadette’s disappearance was unique, or do all women, in a sense, disappear into motherhood and marriage?  I could relate a lot to the book.  It’s easy to feel sometimes that your personality and your goals get lost in marriage and family.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the responsibility and stop having yourself as a priority sometimes.  I love the service and satisfaction of being a mother but sometimes I even feel guilty just taking time for myself to be happy.  I think it’s very easy to let yourself disappear into a marriage and being a mom.  I know that for me, when I set aside time for myself, I’m much more relaxed and patient with my children.  When I’m giving more of myself than I’m capable of, I blame the stress on my kids which is not true.  They deserve to be loved unconditionally and I do that best when I’m happy.

About Maria Semple

Maria Semple

Maria Semple's first novel, This One is Mine, was set in Los Angeles, where she also wrote for television shows including Arrested Development, Mad About You, and Ellen. She escaped from Los Angeles and lives with her family in Seattle, where her second novel takes place.

Book Review: The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

Book Review: The Story of My Life by Helen KellerThe Story of My Life by Helen Keller
Published: 1902
240 pages
Genres: Classic, Memoir
Source: Purchased

 
The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

An American classic rediscovered by each generation, The Story of My Life is Helen Keller’s account of her triumph over deafness and blindness. Popularized by the stage play and movie The Miracle Worker, Keller’s story has become a symbol of hope for people all over the world. 

This book–published when Keller was only twenty-two–portrays the wild child who is locked in the dark and silent prison of her own body. With an extraordinary immediacy, Keller reveals her frustrations and rage, and takes the reader on the unforgettable journey of her education and breakthroughs into the world of communication. From the moment Keller recognizes the word “water” when her teacher finger-spells the letters, we share her triumph as “that living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!” An unparalleled chronicle of courage, The Story of My Life remains startlingly fresh and vital more than a century after its first publication, a timeless testament to an indomitable will.
4 Stars

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller is a beautiful memoir about the power of love, language, and learning.  It was sad and humbling to hear Helen describe how desperate she was to communicate with people.  Since Helen was deaf and blind, she would go into a rage after being so frustrated that no one could understand her.  That really struck home with me.  In college, I babysat a 5 year old boy who couldn’t talk because he had cerebral palsy.  He could answer yes or no to my questions by shaking or nodding his head.  There were times when I asked every question I could think of and he would break down in tears of frustration – just like Helen Keller described.  It was heartbreaking to see.  When the boy I babysat went to school and learned more complex sign language, he lit up.  I still remember the first time he was able to tell me a story.  He was absolutely glowing with joy.  Helen Keller’s story of learning was very touching to me since it similar to the experience that the boy I knew had.

How she was able to learn language was very interesting to read about since she was old to enough to remember the experience of understanding words for the first time.  Her teacher, Annie Sullivan, used a method of teaching with Helen that had never been done before.  The pedagogy behind how Annie taught language to someone who couldn’t hear or see was fascinating.  She had to break down and really think about how kids normally learn language and translate it into the senses that Helen had access to.  She realized that kids acquire language through imitation and through hearing it all day long every day.  So Annie would spell words into Helen’s hand all day long about everything they were doing even though Helen didn’t know what the words meant yet.  Helen learned that words represented the things that she could touch.  It was a bittersweet moment when Annie tries to teach Helen what love is and Helen can’t understand why her teacher won’t show it to her.

…how happy your little Helen was when her teacher explained to her that the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor even touched, but just felt in the heart.

-Helen Keller, in a letter written to Rev. Phillips Brooks, June 8, 1891.

Before reading this, I had never realized how important books would be to Helen Keller.  They were a huge part of how she experienced a world that she couldn’t see or hear.  She talked about books as if they were her friends.

I have not shown how much I have depended on books not only for pleasure and for the wisdom they bring to all who read, but also for that knowledge which comes to others through their eyes and their ears. Indeed, books have meant so much more in my education than in that of others …

– Helen Keller, The Story of My Life, Chapter 21

There was a huge list of books that she read.  You know me.  Of course I wrote them all down.

Books Helen Keller Read

  • As You Like It By William Shakespeare
  • Speech on Conciliation with America by Edmund Burke
  •  Life of Samuel Johnson by Thomas Macaulay
  • Child’s History of England by Charles Dickens
  • The Arabian Nights
  • The Swiss Family Robinson
  • The Pilgrim’s Progress
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • Little Women
  • Heidi
  • Ivanhoe
  • Iliad
  • Aeneid
  • Treasure Island
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • Jungle Book

Because reading had such an influence on her, she often described things the way that someone could see would.  She would describe trees as green even though she had never seen the color green because that’s what books described them as.  That being said, I noticed that a lot of her descriptions – especially of nature – centered on their scent and feel.  Also, I want to write book reviews the way that Helen Keller does.

The “Iliad” is beautiful with all the truth, and grace and simplicity of a wonderfully childlike people while the “Aeneid” is more stately and reserved. It is like a beautiful maiden, who always lived in a palace, surrounded by a magnificent court; while the “Iliad” is like a splendid youth, who has had the earth for his playground.

– Helen Keller, in a letter to Mrs. Laurence Hutton, October 23, 1898

Helen desperately wanted to go to college but practical things made it extremely difficult.  She struggled with being able to even take tests since they had to be dictated to her.  Books weren’t available in braille quickly enough and she would fall behind in classes. Lectures had to be written down in advance for her to follow along.  It makes me appreciate not only my education but the technology today that allows equal access to books for people with disabilities.  I just wanted to travel back in time and make her books because they were so hard to get in braille!  As much as Helen loved books, she hated tests.  Like really, really hated them.  She describes the feeling of forgetting an answer on a test perfectly.

You are sure it is somewhere in your mind near the top—you saw it there the other day when you were looking up the beginnings of the Reformation. But where is it now? You fish out all manner of odds and ends of knowledge—revolutions, schisms, massacres, systems of government; but Huss—where is he? You are amazed at all the things you know which are not on the examination paper.

– Helen Keller, The Story of My Life, Chapter 20

She talks about the administration of the school and how they sometimes unintentionally made things even more difficult for her.  But instead of letting it frustrate her, she felt accomplished that not only had she gotten an education but she had overcome the challenges in getting one as well.

Overall, it’s an amazing story of overcoming difficult trials and making the best of what is given to us.

Content Rating: None. Clean read.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Helen Keller

Helen Keller

Helen Keller would not be bound by conditions. Rendered deaf and blind at 19 months by scarlet fever, she learned to read (in several languages) and even speak, eventually graduating with honors from Radcliffe College in 1904, where as a student she wrote The Story of My Life. That she accomplished all of this in an age when few women attended college and the disabled were often relegated to the background, spoken of only in hushed tones, is remarkable. But Keller's many other achievements are impressive by any standard: she authored 13 books, wrote countless articles, and devoted her life to social reform. An active and effective suffragist, pacifist, and socialist (the latter association earned her an FBI file), she lectured on behalf of disabled people everywhere. She also helped start several foundations that continue to improve the lives of the deaf and blind around the world.

Audiobook Review: Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton

Audiobook Review: Soul Surfer by Bethany HamiltonSoul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board by Bethany Hamilton
Published: October 1, 2004
Narrator: Eleni Pappageorge
Audiobook Length: 3 hrs and 52 mins
Genres: Memoir, Young Adult
Source: Library

 
The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

The amazing story of the thirteen-year-old surfer girl who lost her arm in a shark attack but never lost her faith -- and of her triumphant return to competitive surfing.They say Bethany Hamilton has saltwater in her veins. How else could one explain the tremendous passion that drives her to surf? How else could one explain that nothing -- not even the loss of her arm in a horrific shark attack -- could come between her and the waves?

"Soul Surfer" is a moving account of Bethany's life as a young surfer, her recovery in the wake of the shark attack, the adjustments she's made to her unique surfing style, her unprecedented bid for a top showing in the World Surfing Championships, and, most fundamentally, her belief in God. It is a story of girl power and spiritual grit that shows that the body is no more essential to surfing -- perhaps even less so -- than the soul.
3 Stars

After watching the movie Soul Surfer, I wanted to read the original biography that the movie was based on.  The story line in this book was very similar to the movie but I think I liked the movie better.  The movie focused on her struggles and overcoming them.  The book focused more on her life before and after the shark attack and what she learned from it.  If you liked the movie, the book is still definitely worth reading because it shows what an amazing person she is and how she learned from all of it.  But I feel like the book was a lot of telling about her life instead of showing us the details of what happened.  Even though it was short it made it a little difficult to get through because the writing wasn’t that great.  I felt like I connected more with the story in the movie.

At the end of the book, she also talked about the experience of making the movie which was fun to listen to.  She did all the surfing in the movie which I didn’t know until I read this.  Bethany Hamilton also talked about the history of surfing which I thought was so cool.  I could really see her passion for the sport come through in Soul Surfer.

Narrator Rating: ★★★★

The narration for this novel was great.  The narrator did an amazing job of reading this like a teenager would.  She was interesting to listen to and read at a great pace.

Overall, a great read about overcoming hardships from an inspiring teenager.

Content Rating: Mild, for non-graphic descriptions of a shark attack.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  

About Bethany Hamilton

Bethany Hamilton

Bethany Hamilton has become a source of inspiration to millions through her story of faith, determination, and hope. Born into a family of surfers on February 8, 1990, on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, Bethany began surfing at a young age. At the age of eight, Bethany entered her first surf competition, the Rell Sun Menehune event on Oahu, where she won both the short and long board divisions. This sparked a love for surf competition within her spirit.

At the age of thirteen, on October 31, 2003, Bethany was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark while surfing off Kauai’s North Shore. The attack left Bethany with a severed left arm. After losing over 60% of her blood, and making it through several surgeries without infection, Bethany was on her way to recovery with an unbelievably positive attitude. Lifeguards and doctors believe her strong water sense and faith in God helped get her through the traumatic ordeal.

Miraculously, just one month after the attack, Bethany returned to the water to continue pursuing her goal to become a professional surfer.

Married at the age of 23 to Christian youth minister, Adam Dirks, Bethany has a story that is continually growing as she strives to be the best at whatever God calls her to do. The future is truly wide open for this young soul surfer!

Flashback Friday: Welcome to the First Class You Will Ever Fail

Flashback Friday is a feature I did in 2011 when I first started this blog.  It was a way to practice my writing by sharing stories of things that happened in my life.  This feature is what inspired the name of my blog.  This short story is about a class I took in college where I got the first F of my life and it was quite shocking.  Hope you enjoy it.

“Welcome to Piano Literature! I’m Professor Beekman and we will be studying the wonderful world of the Romantic period.  Lizst, Brahms, and Chopin are just some of the great composers we will get to know this semester.  Please take one syllabus and pass them down.”

Professor Beekman seems nice.  He’s young unlike most of the piano professors.  He’s average height and has a gentle smile, unlike the head of the piano department who is short, terrifying, and smiles in a condescending way.  Professor Beekman also still has all of his hair which is a nice bonus.

“Are there any questions before I hand out the music?”

YES. WHAT THE CRAP IS PIANO LITERATURE.

I’m about to raise my hand but I look around the room first.  Two students are sleeping, four are staring off into space and the girl next to me is taking detailed notes.  Great, I’ll be the idiot freshman who wants to know “What IS piano literature?”  I don’t raise my hand.

During the noise of CDs being passed around the class along with huge notebooks that contain the scores to the CDs with at least 100 pages in them, I turn to the girl next to me who was taking notes.  Her name is Maggie.

“So…what is piano literature exactly?” I try to seem curious and not dumb by slouching a little and twirling my pencil casually.

“I don’t really know, either.” She shrugs with a small smile.

That’s okay.  I’m sure I’ll do great in this class even if I don’t know what it’s even about yet.

CRYING MAKES MY PROFESSOR QUOTE TOLSTOY

Here’s the short version of what piano literature is: it’s the class from hell.  The long version: It’s a class to help you recognize all of the major piano works just by listening to them and learning about the lives of the famous piano composers.  To accomplish this we have to take tests that are so laughably hard that my friends thought I was kidding when I described the tests to them.

For our first quiz, Professor Beekman plays 30 second clips from the four hours of music the we have been listening to.  And he doesn’t play the main themes of the pieces that everyone recognizes.  Oh no. That would be too easy. He takes way too much delight in playing the very obscure, transitional parts of the music.  I can’t remember the names of any of the pieces.  I should have memorized them.  You know that charming, beautiful music from the romantic period? It all sounds the same.  I end up getting 2 out of 5 right on my first quiz.  The seniors that were sleeping on the first day of class all get 4 out of 5 right.  That should be me.  I slept through calculus in high school and still got an A. Something must be wrong.

I talk to my professor after class about my grade and explain that I correctly identified the Hungarian Rhapsody.  “I can live with a C if I get this one more question right….”  He smiles a little and says “But the title of the song is Hungarian Rhapsody NUMBER 2.”

“But you didn’t say we had to list the whole title of the song.”

He helpfully suggests that he’ll announce it in class next time and now I know.

He must have been Snape in another life.  He walks out the door but he sees me crying before he gets there and says some quote from Tolstoy about how everyone is unhappy in different ways.  THANK YOU THAT’S VERY HELPFUL.

I have to come up with a plan to pass this class.

STUDYING STRATEGY #1 – BUY ENOUGH BATTERIES TO FILL A SMALL LANDFILL.

I can feel my husband watching me as I cram my portable CD player, my bulky headphones, my CD wallet, and a ten-pack of batteries into my backpack.

“What are all the batteries for?”

“I have to listen to my CDs to study for piano lit.  My portable CD player eats batteries for breakfast.”

“But….10 batteries?”

“I know.  I hope it’s enough to get through the day.”

The study by osmosis method didn’t work.  I thought I could just listen to the music over and over without really paying attention since I can memorize tons of radio songs that way.  Learning this music is going to take more work.  I listen to my piano lit CDs for at least an hour and a half every day.  And now I know that he loves transitions.  So I pay special attention to the strange parts of the pieces.

The professor hands back my first test.  I got 35 right out of 100. How pathetic is that.  It’s not even enough for random chance.  It’s like my brain is trying to get them wrong.  At least I didn’t cry this time.

And then.

THEN.

He passes out four more CDs with FOUR MORE hours of music to learn.  We get a new set of music at the end of each month.

I can’t breathe.  How is everyone else passing this class? Why did I decide to be a piano major?

STUDYING STRATEGY #2 – TO PASS THIS CLASS YOU MUST KILL TREES

“It’s okay. I didn’t do so well on my test either,” Maggie says as she looks at my test.  I glance at her paper.  She got a C. I’ve never gotten one of those either.  I went from an A student right to an F student.  It would have been nice to pass through mediocrity first before I went straight for failure.

“A bunch of us are going to study together.  Do you want to join us?”

Heck yes I do.  I’m no longer Hermione. I’ve officially become the Ron of this study group.

The study group gives tips for remembering transitions that sound similar in songs.  I also notice that all of them have copied the over 100 pages of the scores for the music.

“How do you even copy 100 pages of music?” I ask Maggie at one of our study sessions.

“Oh it’s easy actually.  They have a tray the feeds the paper for you.  But you’ll need to get a copy card to copy that many pages.”

Between the batteries and the copy card, this class is costing me a fortune.

I stare at the pages during the study sessions like everyone else.  I’m not exactly sure what they are looking for.  I memorize all the names of the pieces and ask my professor if I can write them down on a piece of paper before the test starts.  Maybe the confidence of having options to look at will help.  It’s clear from the look on his face that in all the years he’s taught this class,no one has ever asked him that but he says it’s fine.

I get 40 out of 100 right this time.

I’ve gone from a straight A high school student to completely failing a class.  Half of my grade is an F.  After lots of calculations, I figure I can get a C- if I get 200% on the next two tests.

“I shouldn’t be a piano major.” I tell Maggie as we leave the classroom.  “I suck at it.  No matter how much I listen to the music, it just falls out of my head.”

“No, you don’t suck! Everyone just learns differently.  We’ll study  more and you’ll do great.”  Maggie then gives me a hug and a big smile.

She’s annoyingly chipper.

At the end of the day, the broken record of “I’m a failure” and “Everyone learns differently” is still playing in my head when I realize something.

I LEARN DIFFERENTLY.

I have almost photographic memory for things I read and see but I’ll forget the beginning of a conversation by the time I get to the end of one.  Especially if the person yammers on a lot.  I remember learning in psychology that some people are visual learners and some are aural learners.  Now that I think about it, I realize that I am definitely a visual learner.  I can totally pass this class if I find a way to make piano lit visual instead of aural!

Right. I have no idea how to do that. I’m pretty sure it’s not possible to make a listening test visual because it’s, you know, a LISTENING TEST.  But I need to do this for me.  No matter what grade I end up with at the end of the semester, I can’t help thinking that I haven’t failed until I give up.  This is a class for my major.  If I don’t pass, I can’t be a piano major anymore.  Besides – what’s the worst that could happen? I’ll get another F?  The thought makes me laugh for a moment before it turns into a sob.

STUDYING STRATEGY #3 – CRAYONS AREN’T JUST FOR PRESCHOOL

“What are you doing?” my friend Maggie asks.

“I’m studying for piano lit.”

“Ok. But what’s with the crayons.”

I look at my score spread out before me.  There are blue circles, green lines, and red dots just on this page alone.

I shrug. “The colors help me remember the themes. Hopefully.”

It’s the last test of the semester.  I’ve been studying 3 hours a day for this class alone.  I spent the last of my money on a brand new iPod Mini just for this class that even has a built in quiz function.  I think my classmates are a little jealous of it.  At my desk, I furiously write down my song list before he begins the first clip.  I am so ready.

I get 60 out of 100 hundred right.  OH YEAH!!! That’s more than half right! Which means statistically it wasn’t just guessing!  I so rocked that test.

EPILOGUE – NEVER GIVE UP, NEVER SURRENDER

My professor calls me into his office later that day.  He invites me to sit. I’m so sure that he’s going to congratulate me on my score that I don’t understand what he says at first.

“I’m a little concerned about your grade.”

“….Oh. Well I got 60 right this time.” A huge smile spreads across my face. I can’t help it.

He purses his lips together and gives me a look full of pity. “That’s a D.”

My smile deflates.  “Oh. I guess it is.” Some people just don’t look at the positive in life.  I see it as more than half right, he sees it as almost half of them wrong….

“Look I know you’ve been studying hard.  I’ll take that into account for your final grade.  You can do some extra credit and your writing tests should help bump up your grade a little.”

My final grade that semester was a B-.  I’m crying because I’m more proud of that B- than I was of all the other A’s I had earned combined.  Next semester we studied 20th century music which was mostly glass and nails on piano strings and other disturbing things.  But I had my study methods down to an art.  I was getting 90 out of 100 right on my tests.  Remember those sleeping seniors? They had never heard any of this so-called music and wanted to learn our studying strategies.  So I got to be Hermione again by helping them study.  And that was a wonderful feeling.

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria SempleWhere'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Published: August 14, 2012
330 pages
Genres: Adult Fiction
Source: Library

 
The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.
5 Stars

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a literary book that is full of witty, intelligent humor.  The voice of the teenage girl, Bee, who narrates this book is delightful and sarcastic especially about some of the crappy things that happen to her.  I love the humor of the unpopularity of Bee’s dad working at Microsoft where they are “acronym-happy (pg. 123).”  Bee has a sweet personality, too.  She is collecting letters, emails, transcripts, and blog posts in this journal that she is writing about where her mother went.  I ADORE the blog post that Bee puts in the book that is 500 words long and literally all the post says is that it’s going to rain.  Ah to love something that much that you could write 500 words about the smallest detail.

The writing is amazing in this book.  I don’t think there is a single cliche thing said in the entire book.  There’s a scene where people freeze as they stare at an argument.  But does she just say that they froze? No.  She describes them as this:

Nobody had moved.  Some hands were frozen in midair, in the middle of doing a fold.  It looked like a wax museum diorama of an origami presentation.

– Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette pg 275

I love it.  This was an example of the ultimate show not tell with everything from the unique structure of emails, faxes, and letters, to the writing itself.  Where’d You Go, Bernadette was very entertaining and full of personality.

The crazy small community that this story is set in was hilarious and it kind of reminded me of the small town charm and quirkiness of Gilmore Girls.  This book was full of interesting characters.  Literally all of them exaggerate.  We get to see different perspectives and how each character tends to bend the story a little in their favor to make themselves the victim.

I learned so much from the character of Bernadette.  She showed me that creativity is sometimes found within extreme limits.  I admired her ability to use her interpersonal skills to help her thrive in the male dominated professions of architecture.  Remember to embrace your talents – even the weird ones – and use them to do something you love that no one else can do.  I also loved the theme of Bernadette getting lost literally and figuratively in motherhood which I found very relatable.  Even though Bernadette doesn’t say this particular quote, I think it describes motherhood perfectly.

I felt so alone in this world, and so loved at the same time.

– Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette pg. 199

Overall, it was a impeccably written and hilarious story full of fascinating characters that taught me a lot about embracing your talents – even the weird ones.

Content Rating: High, for some strong language – about a dozen or more f-words.

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About Maria Semple

Maria Semple

Maria Semple's first novel, This One is Mine, was set in Los Angeles, where she also wrote for television shows including Arrested Development, Mad About You, and Ellen. She escaped from Los Angeles and lives with her family in Seattle, where her second novel takes place.