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

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Cover of Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

4 Stars

Bernadette Fox is an…eccentric…mother and wife living in Seattle. Her daughter, Bee, is an excellent student and has asked for a family cruise to Antarctica as a reward for earning all A’s (or her school’s equivalent) throughout her middle school career. Bernadette and her husband, Elgin, can’t think of a reason to say no so the planning begins.

Bernadette is in a fragile place mentally due to a Huge Hideous Thing that happened when she was still living in L.A. The stress of planning the trip, or having her virtual assistant in India plan it, added to the stress of the terrible parents at Bee’s school and the general anxiety Bernadette experiences every day prove to be too much; Bernadette disappears. This book is a collection of emails and other ephemera as Bee tries to figure out where her mom went.

This was hilarious but it was also so sad at the same time. The parents at Bee’s school were horrific beyond words. One in particular took helicopter parenting to an entirely new level. No wonder poor Bernadette calls them “the gnats.” She tries her best to just lie low and let them do their thing but they won’t let her. All parents must be joiners! All parents must volunteer in the classroom! All neighboring parents must keep their backyards in the condition that chief helicopter mom dictates! Holy cow.

Bernadette herself was an enigma. I liked that she just kind of gives the other parents the finger but it was obvious that something just wasn’t right with her. She would go on huge rants about how she hates Canadians and 5-way intersections, both of which are apparently innumerable in Seattle. She seemed to be most honest in emails with her virtual assistant. She chose a house that used to be a girls’ school and then let it crumble down around her family’s ears. I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on with her. And then I found out what the Huge Hideous Thing was and I just had to gasp out loud and sit back and process it for a minute. It was nothing that I had ever expected at all. Once I knew what had happened, I had much more sympathy for Bernadette.

I flew through the first half of the book with all the emails and notes and twists and turns. The second half is more of a straightforward journal written from Bee’s point of view. I can’t say that I lost interest but my reading definitely slowed down. I think it had to be written this way but I preferred the first half.

I highly recommend this funny romp through the lives of a modern American family.

Read an excerpt.

Find author Maria Semple on her website and Facebook.

Buy Where’d You Go, Bernadette at

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

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  1. For the longest time, I avoided this book. I think that was mostly due to all of the hype. Plus, no one's descriptions of it seemed to do the story any justice. This actually sounds really interesting. I'm going to have to give it a try.

  2. I will be reading thus for MomsReading book club chat on Facebook at the end of April. I have heard good reviews on it, yours is the first that mentioned the second half was harder to get through. Thanks for sharing.

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