Where'd You Go, Bernadette

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Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

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    Where'd You Go, Bernadette  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

It all begins with a promise: If eighth-grader Bee Fox earns a picture perfect report card, she and her family will depart on a cruise to Antarctica. The prospect of the trip is exciting; too exciting, it soon becomes apparent, to Bee's brilliant, severely agoraphobic architect mom, who, just a day before their departure, simply disappears. Taking the loss of her mother to heart, Bee begins a feverish, yet systematic search for her, piecing together in the process the dynamics of an unforgettable family. Now in mass-market paperback and NOOK Book.

Publishers Weekly
In her second novel (after This One Is Mine), Semple pieces together a modern-day comic caper full of heart and ingenuity. Eighth-grader Bee is the daughter of Microsoft genius Elgin Branch and Bernadette Fox, a once-famous architect who has become a recluse in her Seattle home. Bee has a simple request: a family cruise to Antarctica as a reward for her good grades. Her parents acquiesce, but not without trepidation. Bernadette’s social anxiety has become so overwhelming that she’s employed a personal assistant from Delhi Virtual Assistants Intl. (who makes “./ReviewSyndication.pl.75 USD/hr.”) for tasks as simple as making dinner reservations. How will she survive three weeks on a boat with other live human beings? Maybe she won’t; a day before the trip, Bernadette disappears, and Bee gathers her mother’s invoices, e-mail correspondence, and emergency room bills in the hopes of finding clues as to where she went.The result is a compelling composite of a woman’s life—and the way she’s viewed by the many people who share it. As expected from a writer who has written episodes of Arrested Development, the nuances of mundane interactions are brilliantly captured, and the overarching mystery deepens with each page, until the thoroughly satisfying dénouement. Agent: Anna Stein, Aitken Alexander. (Aug.)
Tanya Jensen
"If you're not taking a vacation this summer, a dive into Semple's comedic melting pot of family dysfunction, hyperactive parenting, and mental unraveling offers a hilarious escape. You'll find yourself rooting for the runaway parent in a narrative that is dark, funny, and completely human."
Susannah Cahalan
"Sharp and funny, a literary page turner..."
Nicholas Mancusi
"Semple...has the feel for family strife of a born literary novelist, but she retains the comedic sensibility of a screen writer; which is to say that the book is actually laugh-out-loud funny, rather than "humorous." And don't let the hilarity of the first third of the book fool you into thinking that this is a light farce; by the last page, Semple, in addition to skewering helicopter-parents with satire so deft that it could pass for truth, touches on religion, class, and what we owe to those we love."
Mark Haddon
"An uproarious comedy of manners."
Family Circle
"A comedic delight..."
Parade
"Agoraphobia and Antarctica are among the elements in Maria Semple's terrific novel."
Ladies' Home Journal
"A funny, quirky and wildly entertaining read."
The Week
"Full of endearing moments and sublime satire, WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is 'divinely funny' literature."
Redbook
"Find your patron saint of fed-up-ed-ness in our fave summer read, WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE.... You'll laugh your pants off, and love the takeaway-that a life gone off the rails can propel you in a bright new direction."
Whole Living
"This brilliant satire (think Portlandia, set in Seattle) is inventive and wickedly funny."
Capital Times' blog
"An epistolary novel for the twenty-first century.... Paced like a beach read, BERNADETTE has a scathing wit and a casual storytelling style that pulls the reader in and forces her to listen."
Entertainment Weekly
This book is hysterical, kind of wacky, and utterly original.
Dailycandy
"[A] clever story of family dysfunction."
The Oprah Magazine O
"You don't have to know Seattle to get Maria Semple's broadly satirical novel.... Underlying the nontraditional narrative are insights into the cost of thwarted creativity and the power of mother-daughter bonds, although a reader may be having too much fun to notice."
Entertainment Weekly's "The Bullseye"
"This book is hysterical, kind of wacky, and utterly original."
The Charlotte Observer
"Few novels will make you laugh aloud the way Semple's satiric take on a disintegrating Seattle family does."
The Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Clever, witty and laugh-out-loud funny. And that's a rare and wonderful thing."
Janet Maslin
"Comedy heaven.... This divinely funny, many-faceted novel...leaves convention behind. Instead, it plays to Ms. Semple's strengths as someone who can practice ventriloquism in many voices, skip over the mundane and utterly refute the notion that mixed-media fiction is bloggy, slack or lazy.... The tightly constructed WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is written in many formats-e-mails, letters, F.B.I. documents, correspondence with a psychiatrist and even an emergency-room bill for a run-in between Bernadette and Audrey. Yet these pieces are strung together so wittily that Ms. Semple's storytelling is always front and center, in sharp focus. You could stop and pay attention to how apt each new format is, how rarely she repeats herself and how imaginatively she unveils every bit of information. But you would have to stop laughing first."
Megan O'Grady
"Delightfully droll.... Semple...cuts a wry slice of a life-one that's populated by private school helicopter parents, obsessively eco-conscious neighbors, and green-juice swilling, TED-talking husbands-and one that's sharp enough to make us feel slightly relieved about not having to live anywhere quite so bucolic."
Jonathan Franzen
"The characters in WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE may be in real emotional pain, but Semple has the wit and perspective and imagination to make their story hilarious. I tore through this book with heedless pleasure."
Heller McAlpin
"There's a lot to like in Semple's charming novel, including the vivacious humor and the lesson that when creative forces like Bernadette stop creating, they become 'a menace to society.' Even more appealing is the mutually adoring mother-daughter relationship at its warm heart."
Carolyn Kellogg
"Semple's affecting characters, not-necessarily-nice humor and surprising plot twists make this novel an enchanting ride."
Susan Coll
"...Warm, dark, sad, funny-and a little bit screwball.... This is an inventive and very funny novel that gets bonus points for transcending form."
Lev Grossman
"[A] cracklingly smart family dramedy.... [I was] stunned and transported by this extraordinarily powerful and intelligent novel."
Kate Tuttle
"WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is a pure pleasure.... Semple's light touch and glittering prose keep things aloft."
Jeffrey Ann Goudie
"...A smart, caperish, very contemporary novel about marriage, mores and family life by an observer who knows the cultural landscape."
Mary Ann Gwinn
"Achingly funny and perfectly timed....Semple has a big heart, and possess that rare ability to skewer, dissect and empathize with her targets, all at the same time....Read BERNADETTE, laugh loud and long, then take a good look in the mirror."
Brangien Davis
"[A] high-energy, often hilarious epistolary novel."
Karen M. Thomas
"...A smart, intelligent, nuanced tale whose characters will stick with you long after you finish the last page."
Zoë Triska
"Jonathan Franzen endorsed it...and we weren't aware that he liked anything, so we felt inclined to pick it up. We now see why he enjoyed it so much."
Tucker Shaw
"Semple is the novelist of the moment-a Ben Fountain for the latte set....outrageously funny and deceptively deep, [BERNADETTE] is a rewarding read."
Paul Constant
"With its big heart set on acceptance, BERNADETTE feels something like coming home."
Catherine Straut
"...A shrewd yet compassionate portrait of family dysfunction and the volatility of genius in laugh-out-loud, irresistibly high-spirited prose.... WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE takes readers on an original and movingly imaginative adventure."
Stewart Oksenhorn
"Semple's ear for satirizing this world is sharp and scathingly funny; she could probably turn her novel into a stand-up act."
Emily Temple
"Semple, once a writer for Arrested Development, picks apart the mundane interactions of everyday life with a hilarious hand, and you're sure to be as swept up in this witty, inventive mystery as we were."
Stephan Lee
"[An] engrossing and whip-smart modern epistolary novel..."
Korina Lopez
"Semple paints each character with depth and tenderness while keeping the tone upbeat; no easy feat for a novel about a mother who pulls a disappearing act."
Barbara Lloyd McMichael
"[A] romp of a novel.... Semple...nail[s] Seattle's idiosyncrasies in wickedly funny send-ups."
Yvonne Zipp
"...Utterly delightful....Semple used to write for the revered cult hit Arrested Development, and she brings plenty of squirming comedy to the novel, which manages to be that rare good read that actually makes you feel good at the end. Her send-up of Seattle is hilarious, with its Victims Against Victimhood support groups, moms offering organic gardeners swiss chard in lieu of payment, and teachers who are so PC that fourth graders are expected to seriously debate the pros and cons of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. But the heart of the book belongs to Bee, who, as an admissions counselor puts it, tests off the charts for grit and poise; and her mother, who, for all her neuroses, did a bang-up job of turning out one terrific kid."
Kathryn Justice Leache
"...A quirky novel, laugh-out-loud funny in parts, filled with erudite cultural commentary, and teeming with life's predictable messiness, as well as its limitless potential for unexpected joy."
Ruth Freeman
"A touching and hilarious portrait of the anxiety producing, high powered Seattle lifestyle of a somewhat eccentric family of three (and their dog Ice Cream).... This is a great read, well written and populated by characters you care about deeply."
Malena Watrous
"Stands to become a cult favorite.... Like Jane Austen-who set the gold standard for social satire-Semple's most ridiculous characters are convinced that they're the normal ones, and it's wonderful fun to watch as they behave abominably, believing themselves blameless.... Semple has a keen ear for the nuances of different voices, and it's a joy to get to know these people.... Bernadette is...marvelous. Her rants read like the best comedy routines.... It's the rare book that actually deserves the term "laugh-out-loud funny," but I found myself reading passages from almost every page to anyone who would listen, even as I could barely articulate the words through my own laughter."
Anne Payne
"Intertwined with the funny stuff is the heartfelt story of a personal crisis of a creative talent who's slipped off the rails... Bernadette's journey is fresh, funny, and thought provoking."
Nan Willard Cappo
"...Comic lines and...fast-paced events."
Megan Angelo
"I don't even know where to begin with how fantastic it is.... I ate up the Microsoft-obsessed setting and the fabulous, mad-but-not-really Bernadette. Go, get it, thank me later."
Dawn Andrus Paine
"...If wacky, anxiety-prone geniuses are some of your favorite people, then pick up Maria Semple's WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE to add Bernadette Fox and her family to your list of hilarious companions. Bernadette and company don't mind cursing, so if you do, please be warned. But if not, then you've got a stamped passport to Semple's expertly crafted and rollicking, laugh-till-you-cry adventure that will have you tearing through the pages to find out if Bernadette is gone for good."
Janet Potter
"...Well-plotted and masterfully satirical.... WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is really, really funny, and not in the usual way that suggests the author is trying to be funny to cover up their deficiencies in plot or styling. As it turns out, Maria Semple is both a good writer and a funny writer, but she prefers to be the latter."
Frank Bruni
"...Sublime..."
Chris Michaud
"With only her second book, TV writer-turned novelist Maria Semple has won rave reviews with a withering, but ultimately affectionate satire of Seattle's privileged set."
Connie Ogle
"If Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl represented the dark heart of the summer literature, Maria Semple's...BERNADETTE embodies the sunnier, funnier side.... Semple has a flair for satire and screwball jinks, and she has produced a great gift to avid readers: a book that you never want to finish reading."
Donna Liquori
"One of the funniest stories you can read this year."
Jeremy Medina
"....A powerful mosaic of mental illness, artistic temperament, and family melodrama.... Semple's background in television and comedy... provide[s] the foundation for this subversively funny novel and its all-too-rare blend of humor and heart.... In a time when everything is a version of something else, how extraordinary-and exciting-to read a novel that subverts conventions to create an experience that feels so fresh."
Gillian Flynn
"Semple's epistolary novel satirizes Seattle, Microsoft, helicopter parents, the elite, and the overeducated-while revealing truths about family, genius, ambition, and resilience."
Michelle Will
"Marketed as a beach read, give this to your soccer moms who have come to the realization that maybe they aren't 'all that.' With a Tiffany-blue cover, it's wrapped perfectly!"
David Hiltbrand
"A quirky comic masterpiece...about an irresistibly precocious teen and her awesomely agoraphobic mom.... BERNADETTE is an ingenious, enjoyable, continually surprising farce."
Jen Doll
"In appearance, this may be the perfect beach read to go with your retro bikini. Inside the cover, Semple's novel is funny, suspenseful, multi-faceted, multi-media, and sad, too - spot-on social commentary..."
Sumana Ghosh-Witherspoon
"Unputdownable!"
Gillian Flynn on Today
"A hilarious, nasty, heartfelt satire about parenting, privilege, genius, resilience and life in Seattle."
Emma Straub for Salon
"It's the first epistolary novel I've ever loved, and sharp as hell."
Christina Spines
"Stunningly astute.... Beyond its ethnographic value as a snapshot of the underlying hypocrisies of the way the top five percent lives now, WYGB delivers at least one knowing chuckle per page in an innovative structure worthy of its own TED Talk."
Laura Anderson
"This funny and heartfelt novel has it all: love, mystery, infidelity, and humor. The complications of human life are on full display and examined with absurdity."
Jessica Grose
"Tart [and] searingly funny."
Shelly Walston
"The romp that ensues throughout Semple's sophomore novel is cleverly crafted, and allows the reader to develop strong ties to the author's masterfully drawn...[and] quirky characters."
Minnesota Reads
"Delicious, funny, irreverent, [and] smart..."
Gillian Flynn for The New York Times's "Inside the List"
"One of the big burst-of-oxygen books this year.... clever and inventive but also genuine and heartfelt."
Stacey Pavlick
"Really, really funny.... A novel of refuge if you find yourself, like Bernadette, bogged down by the peskiness of privilege."
Zoe Triska
"Jonathan Franzen endorsed it...and we weren't aware that he liked anything, so we felt inclined to pick it up. We now see why he enjoyed it so much."
Elliott Holt
"Fast-paced and compulsively readable...and beneath its nimble storytelling is a resonant exploration of a mother and daughter's unbreakable bond."
Aspen Daily News
"To say this book is quirky would be something of an understatement. It is also very funny, snarky, smart, occasionally confusing, and cleverly constructed."
In Touch Weekly
"Seriously funny and clever."
Jennifer Haupt
"Wildly creative."
Chicago Now
"Maria Semple brings her A game."
Jessa Crispin
"A lovely story of a creative lull."
Laura Pearson
"A truly inventive mother-daughter story full of offbeat characters, clever humor and drama both intrapersonal and interpersonal."
Ihsan Taylor
"Smart [and] entertaining."
Boing Boing
"A tremendously entertaining work of social satire combined with a mystery that kept me wondering what would happen next right up to the end."
The Brooklyn Eagle
"[A] dazzling satire.... One of 2012's most hilarious books."
Library Journal
What does a genius architect do when the neighbor with whom she's been feuding destroys her greatest work of art? In Semple's second novel (after This One is Mine) she moves from the scene of the crime (Los Angeles) to a city where she's less likely to get into trouble (Seattle). Bernadette, the genius architect, is married to Elgin, also a genius, who has taken a job at Microsoft. Unfortunately, Bernadette manages to get involved in some serious neighbor drama in her new city—even though she barely leaves her house. Owing to the madness in LA, Bernadette has lost her creative drive, which has been replaced with an insanity that affects everyone around her, including her teenaged daughter, Bee. Eventually, Bernadette flees Seattle with the help of an unlikely ally. Then it is up to the ones who love her the most to answer the question the title poses. VERDICT Interestingly written in the form of emails, memos, and articles with very little narrative prose, this fun read is filled with quirky characters and eccentric circumstances. With elements similar to an Anne Tyler novel or a Wes Anderson film, this is sure to be a hit with readers who appreciate offbeat characters and an original story. [See Prepub Alert, 2/12/12.]—Karen Core, Detroit P.L.
Kirkus Reviews
From Semple (This One Is Mine, 2008), a cleverly constructed Internet-age domestic comedy about a wife/mother/genius architect who goes a little nuts from living in that cesspool of perfection and bad weather called Seattle. Bernadette left Los Angeles years earlier after a professional disaster: After she won a MacArthur grant for building a house using only materials that originated within 20 miles of the site, vengeful neighbors had the house destroyed. Now she lives in Seattle with her equally genius husband, Elgie, who is working on a big project in artificial intelligence at Microsoft, and their genius eighth-grade daughter, Bee, whose devotion to her mother is one of the novel's least credible plot points. Bernadette may be brilliant and funny, but she is also mean-spirited and self-absorbed, with a definite case of entitlement that the author too frequently seems to share. She certainly hates everything about Seattle, especially the other mothers at Bee's crunchy-granola private school. Because she hates to leave her house, a crumbling ruin she's never bothered to renovate, she has hired a personal assistant in India to run her life via the Internet. After her vendetta against one of her Seattle mommy-enemies goes terribly awry, Elgie begins to wonder if she is having a mental breakdown. Meanwhile, Bernadette decides she wants to get out of a planned family trip to Antarctica. Days before the trip, in the middle of an intervention Elgie has plotted with his adoring administrative assistant, Bernadette disappears. To makes sense of the disappearance, Bee creates a book by collating the Internet postings, public records and private emails she has received from an anonymous source. Although there are wonderful scenes of deadpan absurdity--Semple wrote for Arrested Development--Seattle, already the butt of so much humor lately, seems an awfully easy mark. The tone is sharply witty if slightly condescending, but ultimately Semple goes for the heartstrings. A fun beach read for urban sophisticates or those who think they are.
The New York Times
…[the novel] plays to Ms. Semple's strengths as someone who can practice ventriloquism in many voices, skip over the mundane and utterly refute the notion that mixed-media fiction is bloggy, slack or lazy. The tightly constructed Where'd You Go, Bernadette is written in many formats—e-mails, letters, F.B.I. documents, correspondence with a psychiatrist and even an emergency-room bill for a run-in between Bernadette and Audrey. Yet these pieces are strung together so wittily that Ms. Semple's storytelling is always front and center, in sharp focus. You could stop and pay attention to how apt each new format is, how rarely she repeats herself and how imaginatively she unveils every bit of information. But you would have to stop laughing first.
—Janet Maslin
The Washington Post
The assignment: Craft a novel from the literary equivalent of found objects. Consider the narrative possibilities contained not just in letters and e-mails, but in school report cards, emergency room bills and police reports filed by night managers at Westin Hotels. The resultant work must have a compelling plot, a strong sense of place and fully realized characters. Make it warm, dark, sad, funny—and a little bit screwball. Could we ask for a more delightful response to that assignment than Maria Semple's second novel, Where'd You Go, Bernadette?…This is an inventive and very funny novel that gets bonus points for transcending form.
—Susan Coll
Matthew Kneale
"A delightfully funny book, that constantly catches one by surprise, Where'd You Go, Bernadette combines a shrewdly observed portrait of Seattle-life with, of all things, a mysterious disappearance in Antarctica. A pleasure."
Garth Stein
"It was only a matter of time before Maria Semple turned her hilariously wicked, razor-sharp, acid-etched humor loose on Seattle, and set her impeccable laser sights on the heart of Microsoft. At times a tears-to-your-eyes laugher that skewers my own home town (and quite possibly my own mother), Where'd You Go, Bernadette is also a compassionate look at family dysfunction, the paralysis of genius, and good old-fashioned parental love. Cleverly constructed and brilliantly executed, Semple has driven this one home with great authority, and has proven, once again, that she ranks among contemporary literature's finest satirists."
Holley Simmons
"If you read only one book this summer about an agoraphobic mother and her broken promise to take her daughter Bee on a trip to Antarctica, make it this one....Semple writes like an oversized plume, finding all your tickle spots with ease."
Kate Atkinson
"Where'd You Go, Bernadette is fresh and funny and accomplished, but the best thing about it was that I never had any idea what was going to happen next. It was a wild ride..."
Patrick deWitt
"Maria Semple dissects the gory complexities of familial dysfunction with a deft and tender hand. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a triumph of social observation and black comedy by a skillful chronicler of moneyed malaise."
Jonathan Evison
"Brilliant, hilarious, endlessly inventive, and compulsively readable, Where'd You Go, Bernadette grabs you by the collar and never lets go. Semple is not only a masterful juggler, and an astute social critic, she is a magician!"
- Jonathan Franzen
"The characters in Where'd You Go, Bernadette may be in real emotional pain, but Semple has the wit and perspective and imagination to make their story hilarious. I tore through this book with heedless pleasure."
- Brangien Davis
"[A] high-energy, often hilarious epistolary novel."
From the Publisher
"The characters in Where'd You Go, Bernadette may be in real emotional pain, but Semple has the wit and perspective and imagination to make their story hilarious. I tore through this book with heedless pleasure."—- Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom

"Brilliant, hilarious, endlessly inventive, and compulsively readable, Where'd You Go, Bernadette grabs you by the collar and never lets go. Semple is not only a masterful juggler, and an astute social critic, she is a magician!"—Jonathan Evison, author of West of Here

"A delightfully funny book, that constantly catches one by surprise, Where'd You Go, Bernadette combines a shrewdly observed portrait of Seattle-life with, of all things, a mysterious disappearance in Antarctica. A pleasure."—Matthew Kneale, author of When We Were Romans

"It was only a matter of time before Maria Semple turned her hilariously wicked, razor-sharp, acid-etched humor loose on Seattle, and set her impeccable laser sights on the heart of Microsoft. At times a tears-to-your-eyes laugher that skewers my own home town (and quite possibly my own mother), Where'd You Go, Bernadette is also a compassionate look at family dysfunction, the paralysis of genius, and good old-fashioned parental love. Cleverly constructed and brilliantly executed, Semple has driven this one home with great authority, and has proven, once again, that she ranks among contemporary literature's finest satirists."—Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain

"With a sure feel for the screwball and the slapstick, Maria Semple deliciously sends up the privileged, overachieving, PC world of Emerald City. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a crazy quilt of an epistolary novel, utterly contemporary yet pleasingly old-fashioned, and always light and witty."—Stewart O'Nan, author of The Odds

"Where'd You Go, Bernadette is fresh and funny and accomplished, but the best thing about it was that I never had any idea what was going to happen next. It was a wild ride..."—Kate Atkinson, author of Case Histories and Started Early, Took My Dog

"Maria Semple dissects the gory complexities of familial dysfunction with a deft and tender hand. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a triumph of social observation and black comedy by a skillful chronicler of moneyed malaise."—Patrick deWitt, author of The Sisters Brothers

"In her second novel...Semple pieces together a modern-day comic caper full of heart and ingenuity....a compelling composite of a woman's life-and the way she's viewed by the many people who share it. As expected from a writer who has written episodes of Arrested Development, the nuances of mundane interactions are brilliantly captured, and the overarching mystery deepens with each page, until the thoroughly satisfying dénouement."—Publisher's Weekly Starred Review

"Semple's snappy writing and spot-on humor make this one of the funniest beach reads of the summer."—Meganne Fabrega, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"[A] high-energy, often hilarious epistolary novel."—- Brangien Davis, Seattle Magazine"If you read only one book this summer about an agoraphobic mother and her broken promise to take her daughter Bee on a trip to Antarctica, make it this one....Semple writes like an oversized plume, finding all your tickle spots with ease."—Holley Simmons, Washington Post Express

"An uproarious comedy of manners"—People Magazine

People Magazine
"An uproarious comedy of manners"
Gillian Flynn for The New York Times' "Inside the List"
"One of the big burst-of-oxygen books this year.... clever and inventive but also genuine and heartfelt."
Stewart O'Nan
"With a sure feel for the screwball and the slapstick, Maria Semple deliciously sends up the privileged, overachieving, PC world of Emerald City. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a crazy quilt of an epistolary novel, utterly contemporary yet pleasingly old-fashioned, and always light and witty."
Meganne Fabrega
"Semple's snappy writing and spot-on humor make this one of the funniest beach reads of the summer."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316204279
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 8/14/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 182,156
  • Product dimensions: 6.24 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

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Read an Excerpt

The first annoying thing is how, anytime I ask Dad what he thinks happened to Mom, he always says, "The most important thing is for you to understand it's not your fault." You'll notice that wasn't even the question. When I press him, he says the second annoying thing, "The truth is complicated. There's no way anyone can ever completely know everything about another person."

Mom disappears into thin air two days before Christmas without telling me? Of course it's complicated. Just because it's complicated, just because you think you can't ever know another person completely, it doesn't mean you can't try.

It doesn't mean I can't try.

PART ONE: MOM VERSUS THE GNATS

Monday, November 15

* * *

Galer Street School is where compassion, academics and global connectitude join together to create civic-minded citizens of a sustainable and diverse planet.

Student: Bee Branch
Grade: Eight
Teacher: Levy

KEY
S Surpasses Excellence
A Achieves Excellence
W Working towards Excellence

Geometry S
Biology S
World Religion S
Modern World S
Language Arts S
Expressive Movement S


COMMENTS

Bee is a pure delight. Her love of learning is infectious, as are her kindness and humor. Bee is unafraid to ask questions. Her goal is always deep understanding of any given topic, not merely getting a good grade. The other students look to Bee for help in their studies, and she is always quick to respond with a smile. Bee exhibits extraordinary concentration when working alone; when working in a group, she is a quiet and confident leader. Of special note is what an accomplished flutist Bee continues to be. The year is only a third over, but already I am mourning the day Bee graduates from Galer Street and heads out into the world. I understand she is applying to boarding schools back East. I envy the teachers who get to meet Bee for the first time, and to discover for themselves what a lovely young woman she is.

* * *

That night at dinner, I sat through Mom and Dad's "We're-so-proud-of-you's," and "She's-a-smart-one's," until there was a lull.

"You know what it means," I said. "The big thing it means."

Mom and Dad frowned question marks at each other.

"You don't remember?" I said. "You told me when I started Galer Street that if I got perfect grades the whole way through, I could have anything I wanted for a graduation present."

"I do remember," Mom said. "It was to ward off further talk of a pony."

"That's what I wanted when I was little," I said. "But now, I want something different. Do you want to know what it is?"

"I'm not sure," Dad said. "Do we?"

"A family trip to Antarctica!" I pulled out the brochure I'd been sitting on. It was from an adventure travel company that does cruises to exotic places. I opened it to the Antarctica page and passed it across the table. "If we go, it has to be over Christmas."

"This Christmas?" Mom said. "Like in a month?" She got up and started stuffing empty take-out containers into the bags they were delivered in.

Dad was already devouring the brochure. "It's their summer," he said. "It's the only time you can go."

"Because ponies are cute." Mom tied the handles in a knot and stuffed the bags in the trash.

"What do you say?" Dad looked up at Mom.

"Isn't this a bad time for you because of work?"

"We're studying Antarctica," I said. "I've read all the explorer's journals and I'm doing my presentation on Shackleton." I started wiggling in my chair. "I can't believe it. Neither of you are saying no."

"I was waiting for you," Dad said to Mom. "You hate to travel."

"I was waiting for you," Mom said to Dad. "You have to work."

"Oh my God. That's yes!" I jumped out of my chair. "That's a yes!" My joy was so infectious that Ice Cream woke up and started barking and doing victory laps around the kitchen table.

"Is that a yes?" Dad asked Mom.
"That's a yes," Mom said.

* * *

Tuesday, November 16
From: Bernadette Fox
To: Manjula Kapoor

Manjula,
Something unexpected has come up and I'd love it if you could work extra hours. From my end, this trial period has been a lifesaver. I hope it's working for you, too. If so, please let me know ASAP because I need you to work your Indian magic on a huge project.

OK: I'll stop being coy.

You know I have a daughter, Bee. (She's the one you order the medicine for and wage valiant battle with the insurance company over.) Apparently, my husband and I told her she could have anything she wanted if she graduated middle school with straight-A's. The straight A's have arrived— or should I say straight S's, because Galer Street is one of those liberal, grades-erode-self-esteem type schools (let's hope you don't have them in India)— and so what does Bee want? To take a family trip to Antarctica!

Of the million reasons I don't want to go to Antarctica, the main one is that it will require me to leave the house. You might have figured by now that's something I don't much like to do. But I can't argue with Bee. She's a good kid. She has more character than me and Elgie and the next ten guys combined. Plus she's applying to boarding school for next fall, which she'll of course get into because of said A's. Whoops, S's! So, it would be in pretty bad taste to deny Buzzy this.

The only way to get to Antarctica is by cruise ship. Even the smallest one has 150 passengers, which translates into me being trapped with 150 people who will uniquely annoy the hell out of me with their rudeness, waste, idiotic questions, incessant yammering, creepy food requests, boring small-talk, etc. Or worse, they turn their curiosity towards me, and expect pleasantry in return. I'm getting a panic attack just thinking about it. A little social anxiety never hurt anyone, am I right?

If I give you the info, could you pretty please take over the paperwork, visas, plane tickets, everything involved with getting us three from Seattle to the White Continent? Is this something you have time for?

Say yes,

Bernadette
Oh! You already have credit card numbers to pay for airfare, trip and accoutrements. But in terms of your salary, I'd like you to take it directly out of my personal account. When Elgie saw the Visa charge for your work last month— even though it wasn't much money— he didn't like the idea that I'd hired a virtual assistant from India. I told him I wouldn't be using you anymore. So, if we could, Manjula, let's keep our budding romance an illicit one.

* * *

From: Manjula
To: Bernadette

Dear Ms. Fox,
It would be my pleasure to assist you with your family travel plans to Antarctica. Attached please find the contract for moving forward on a full-time basis. Where indicated, please include your bank routing number. I look forward to working together.

Warm Regards,
Manjula

* * *
Invoice from Delhi World Assistants

Invoice Number: BFB39382
Associate: Manjula Kapoor

40 hours a week at $0.75 USD/hr.

TOTAL: 30.00 USD
Invoice Due in Full Upon Receipt

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Maria Semple
Where'd You Go, Bernadette is narrated by a fifteen-year-old and contains letters, doctors' reports, blog posts, and magazine articles. How did you come up with this unusual form?
My idea for the book began with Bernadette, a brilliant but unhinged woman who devotes herself to motherhood and whose unchanneled artistic energy is wreaking serious havoc in her life. Since she's the type who likes to boss people around, it seemed plausible and funny to me that she would overshare with the help. But as Bernadette is so crippled by social anxiety that she's borderline agoraphobic, I decided to make this help virtual. As soon as I began typing that first email from Bernadette to her virtual assistant in India, it came to me in a flash: I'm writing an epistolary novel! This filled me with excitement, as two of my favorite books of all time, Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos and English Passengers by Matthew Kneale, are epistolary novels. (There's something deliciously illicit about reading letters that aren't intended for you, isn't there?) I love the form and decided to just go crazy with it.
You wrote for TV shows like Arrested Development, Mad About You, and Ellen before turning to fiction. How did your career as a TV writer inform Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
To me, what makes a great novel is a great story. In TV, story is king. I feel wildly lucky to have spent so much of my life in rooms with writers much better than myself, learning to craft a story.
You must have also learned a lot about comedy.
I learned that comedy is born out of strong characters. I won't begin writing a character until I have a clear take on them. At first, the take can be rather crude. For example, Audrey is religious, cheap, and easily offended. Soo-Lin is provincial, boring, and overly invested in the intrigue at Microsoft. And then, of course, the characters fill out in ways I don't expect. Audrey would become a master gardener and the mother of a juvie. Soo-Lin would end up having a blind father and would lean heavily on a loopy support group, Victims Against Victimhood. If you've got a strong, specific character, the comedy will unfurl. You mentioned Microsoft. Where'd You Go, Bernadette is full of precise details about the work environment there, plus a wide range of other subjects like the TED conference, Antarctica, the Los Angeles architecture scene of the '90s, private-school fundraising, brain-computer interface, and the logistics of getting someone institutionalized, to name a few. How much research did you do?
Not as much as it might seem! My talent isn't so much in traditional research as in finding really smart people and badgering them with questions. For example, I'd already decided that Elgie would work at Microsoft and that Soo-Lin would be his admin. Around that time, we went to the ballet and I started a conversation with a guy sitting next to me who, turns out, was a big-time engineer at Microsoft. He was incredibly friendly, so I asked him if I could come out to Microsoft for a visit. (I'd never been.) Two days later, he was walking me around the campus. Almost everything in Where'd You Go, Bernadette about Microsoft came from that one visit. Plus, this same VP read several drafts of the book and corrected all my terminology. Don't worry, he's thanked in the acknowledgments!
That anecdote paints an idyllic picture of your life in Seattle. But it would seem from the book that you don't much care for the place.
We moved to Seattle about four years ago. At first, I couldn't stand it. I didn't like the people; I couldn't find my way around the irrational street grid; the architecture was ugly; even the native plants seemed weird and unattractive. But Seattle's worst offense, in my dark mind, was that since moving there, I'd been unable to write. Luckily, I recognized a glimmer of comedy in my misery and out sprang the character of Bernadette. I began the book immediately and included all the well-crafted rants about Seattle that were stuck in my head. (Nobody wanted to hear it, and who could blame them?) By the time I was halfway through the book, I had started warming to Seattle. But I fended off any fuzzy thoughts until I finished my first draft. Now I thoroughly love Seattle.
Who have you discovered lately?
It makes me so happy to answer this, because the best books I've read all year were recommended to me by one of my favorite bookstore people, Debbie Boxer at Barnes & Noble in Seattle. We talk books, and one day I came in to buy At Last by Edward St. Aubyn, which a friend had recommended. Debbie mentioned that it was the fifth book in a series, and she went and found a paperback omnibus of the first four of St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother's Milk. I read them in a weekend. They're riotously funny. St. Aubyn writes sentences that are so beautiful it almost hurts to read them. And his dialogue is the best I've ever come across. I can't recommend these books enough. Oh, and on a final note, it was a high point of my career as an author the day I was able to go into the Barnes & Noble in Seattle and tell Debbie that Where'd You Go, Bernadette was a B&N Discover pick.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 409 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(166)

4 Star

(154)

3 Star

(45)

2 Star

(31)

1 Star

(13)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 409 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 6, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    LOVED

    What fun this book was! Quick recap of key characters:

    Bernadette – Award winning architect turned recluse who hides out the days in an airstream camper she had installed by her house so she can avoid the house help. She also has a virtual assistant in India who she hires to basically handle all the day to day duties she has including ordering food, shopping, and planning all the details of their upcoming vacation (at only 75 cents an hour which I confess gave me a momentary idea before I was horrified that I even considered it!).

    Elgin “Elgie” – Her Microsoft genius husband who really has no clue of the life that exists around him, including his own family. Such an enigma that he thinks it’s totally appropriate to work at the office without his shoes walking around in only his socks…which is probably gross considering how much it rains in Seattle. How cool would it be to be considered such a god that you could walk around funking up the air around the office and no one would dare tell you to put your shoes back on?

    Balakrishna “Bee” – their daughter who is an extremely intelligent child who is probably the most normal character in the book!

    The Gnats – What Bernadette calls the other private school moms who are a bunch of self-absorbed and narcissistic women. Their antics constantly had me laughing, while another part of me wanted to poke them in their eyeballs. I actually respected Bernadette a lot for her reserved way of dealing with them instead of giving a karate chop to the neck.

    Truly a group of 1 percenters as another reviewer described. Money seems to come out of the water faucets for these people. I suspect they might even use dollars as toilet paper. Their reality is unimaginable for the other 99 percent of the population. Yet somehow…I liked Bernadette. Yes she seems like a nut job and the family has no idea how the rest of the world lives, but she is a woman who loves her child.

    I found it laugh out loud funny throughout. The majority was written in various forms of correspondence format. I was really pulling for Bernadette despite all her flaws (because are we not all flawed? Just in different ways?). I was really pulling for Bernadette and hoping she would be found. As for if she was, you will have to read for yourself to find out.

    People will probably either love it or not, depending on whether or not you can suspend belief while reading it.

    31 out of 33 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    The bugs in the sample are only in the beginning and are pretty

    The bugs in the sample are only in the beginning and are pretty easy to
    navigate around. Don't let that stop you from reading this, it's very
    enjoyable.

    15 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2012

    Technical difficulties

    This was a fun and cute book and I really wanted to buy it, but the sample was so buggy: pages duplicated and/or in the wrong order. I was confused and had to stop reading.

    14 out of 43 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 18, 2013

    Fun Read

    I read this as part of an online book club. As such, I was supposed to read it in 4 parts. I couldn't do it. I just kept reading to the end. The author used a style of writing that made me just want to keep reading to find out what came next. It was funny. Some of what the characters experienced was just plain awful(but funny too!) I loved it and would recommend it.

    12 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 1, 2012

    Pure Pleasure Reading

    So you live in Seattle and you totally get all the satirical references to the “Emerald City” lifestyle. On the other hand, you live, say in Austin, Texas, [armadillos, Whole Foods, Dell Computer and Willie Nelson] and you realize that any dream you may have had about traveling to Seattle, perhaps to live there in retirement, just isn’t worth it. Maria Semple’s novel, “Where’d You Go Bernadette,” mercilessly pans the city [and don’t get her started on Canada!]. Upon opening the hardcover book, you will discover that a child is searching for her mother [Bernadette – said title character] and that said child is a student at Galer Street School: “...a place where compassion, academics, and global connectitude join together to create civic-minded citizens of a sustainable and diverse planet.” The first clue that the book will be a humourous treat to read is the redundancy of the words: “...connectitude join together...” In my opinion, it takes a humor writer of the first water to even conceive of such massive redundancy in the second line of her book. Although a careful reader may wonder why the book opens with a child’s report card [said child Surpasses Excellence in all her studies], the answer is not forthcoming until near the end of the book when the answer to the title question begins to make sense. Until then, the reader is taken on an hysterical ride through other people’s e-mail, private notes, hospital bills, magazine articles as well as: REAL-TIME ¿ FLASH reports. Maria Semple gives us an Epistolary Novel – one told as an exchange of letters – the brilliance of her story telling arises as we enjoy our natural tendency to gossip by reading the private – never meant to be seen in public – mail from one person to another. Mail that paints Bernadette’s and her neighbor’s private and devilish feelings in opposition to their public, virtuous, personas. Bernadette’s husband, a Microsoft Star, gave a TEDTalk that every character in the book reports: “...was the fourth-most watched TEDTalk of all time...!!!” And that, dear review readers, is HOW YOU KNOW that the man is a STAR – there are other clues to his star-status but he is SO NICE one must [if one is the author] find a way to stress his stardom. And, in keeping with the humorous tone of the book, it is necessary to refrain from making him a Gold, Silver or Bronze TEDTalker. Likewise, if it was only the fifth-most watched YouTube-TEDTalk of all time, who would care? So fourth-most watched it is. My recommendation: READ THIS BOOK [and since the e-readers who wrote reviews on this site seem to have had a hard time knowing if the page was turned – see other reviewers on this page] READ A HARDCOVER. I DID. AND I’M GLAD.

    11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 7, 2012

    Wonderful!

    Witty, fantastic read. Would love to read a sequel to this! Also, thanks to the reviewer who pointed out that the actual, full-length e-Book isn't buggy like the sample. :)

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2012

    Very good book

    I enjoyed this story very much. Good story, funny and moving.

    6 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2013

    Great book

    Funny, realistic, and touching. I could relate to bernadette and the gnats, it had me laughing so hard at times and then crying the next. Loved it,

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2012

    Good story but terrible layout

    This is the worst layout ofan ebook Ihaveeverseen from a book that wasn't free. The publisher should be ashamed. I am going to pick up the print copy from the library to finish it.

    5 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2012

    Fabulous book

    This is a wonderful book; a fun and fast read. The story is told through emails, notes and faxes. If that sounds dry, it's not! Take a chance on this intriguing mystery.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 11, 2013

    Pretty good book

    I thought it was a good book, fun to read but I thought the ending was a little wierd and abrupt. But over all a good book

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2012

    A liitle gem

    I totally fell in love with this gem of a book. Its a story that's a bit far fetched and the characters a bit over the top, but it is that quirkyness wich ultimately gives it so much heart.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2012

    Left unsaid...

    Intriguing story, and interesting use of a contemporary techno-style.
    I noticed I had a feeling of empathy for all the characters. I thought the end was somewhat abrupt, and with much of the supportive character situations left unfulfilled, or unanswered. I suppose this creates somewhat of a segue for the next book...?

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2014

    Don't bother

    Couldn't get into this book at all.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 8, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I don't get it! I bit again based on reviews. Laugh out? I don't

    I don't get it! I bit again based on reviews. Laugh out? I don't think so!!! I kept reading it and in the end and overall it ended ok. This book is only ok. Get it from the library or wait until it sells for $1.99. Reviewers are really screwed up!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2013

    Didn't love it

    I have no idea what all the hype about this book was about. It was boring and not at all relatable. The only likable character was the daughter and even she got annoying.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2012

    I loved this book...so well written and funny, touching, ironic,

    I loved this book...so well written and funny, touching, ironic, etc. I agree with one reviewer who said the
    sample was buggy, but the full length book was perfect...all pages in correct order etc. Excellent story!!

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2012

    Delightful and Funny!

    Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a CLUNKER of a title that is belied by an otherwise swiftly plotted novel peopled with charmingly, humorous, and clever narrators. It's a delightful--and very funny!--read! It concerns the disappearance of famous but reclusive architect, the title's Bernadette, and her precocious and beloved daughter, Bee's, determination to find out where her mother has gone. It's an almost-epistolary novel, but information is revealed in all manner of documents the novel which amounts to a kind of scrapbook of Bee's quest. The book is also very much as send-up of Seattle, but by the end, I thought it was kind of a love letter to the city, too. Snarky on the surface, anything but underneath.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2014

    This one had SO much promise! I loved the creative way that it w

    This one had SO much promise! I loved the creative way that it was written, and it was really hard to put down. I don't have a lot of
    critical things to say except I feel like she could have taken the plot line way further and made the book GREAT. I felt like there were
    some dropped story lines that could have been developed, and the ending was a little blah. Overall though it was an intriguing
    and a fun read.   

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 19, 2014

    Where¿d You Go, Bernadette? is the second novel by American auth

    Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is the second novel by American author and TV writer, Maria Semple. When Bernadette Fox disappears two days before Christmas and a scheduled family trip to Antarctica, her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bee is determined to track her down. She is sure that her dad, Microsoft guru Elgin Branch, knows more than he’s letting on. And she’s convinced that the shouting match with another school-mom, Audrey Griffiths, was the trigger for the disappearance. Bee’s narration of events is interspersed with emails, notes, a school report, letters, bills, blog posts, announcements, journal articles, a poem, an audio transcript and several faxes, each in a different font and format, and all of which fill in the background facts on incidents and characters. Thus the reader learns about Bernadette’s decline from celebrated young architect to socially anxious semi-recluse, Bee’s precarious early childhood and Elgin’s rise to MS fame, as well as what led to Bernadette’s flight and why the FBI got involved. Semple’s characters develop, and not always in an expected manner: one surprisingly discovers a conscience; another disappointingly gives in to temptation; another metamorphoses, perhaps predictably, from small and benign to large and threatening. They are characters that are familiar from everyday life: the fawning admin, the venomous school mom, the hard-working father, the text-book psychiatrist, the excruciatingly enthusiastic fund-raiser. As Bee trails her mom to the ends of the earth, the full gamut of reactions to loss is depicted. This is a hilarious book that nonetheless touches on some topical issues including work/life balance, trust, identity theft, post-traumatic stress and the best way to remove blackberry bushes. Readers may find some parts bring a lump to the throat, but will spend most of this clever novel laughing out loud. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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