Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

A few years ago, you couldn’t go to a bookstore, walk past a Hudson’s News in the airport, or go to a book club without hearing about Where’d You Go Bernadette. It was a runaway hit 2012 – library hold lists were miles long and I just wasn’t interested enough to wait six months to read it. Now, in 2019, its popularity is growing again with a movie scheduled for release later this year. It was after watching the trailer that I remembered this book existed and decided to pick up a copy to see what all the hype was about. After reading it – I kinda get the hype: it’s a good book, but it does fail to really deliver in the end on all of its build up.

Bernadette Fox has vanished.

When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms. Fox is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces–which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades. Where’d You Go Bernadette is an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are and the power of a daughter’s love for her mother.

This book is told through the snippets that Bee (Bernadette’s daughter) is collecting to solve the puzzle of where her mom went. These snippets are interlaced with bits of more traditional story from Bee’s point of view. I loved how the story unfurled the way and at the same pace as Bee pieced through the mystery. There were red herrings and false leads and at times it felt like Bernadette might never be found. The format really lent itself to the mystery of it all while still allowing for a complex story to be told without being gimmicky.

The one part I strongly disliked about this book was the ending. The whole book builds up a complex mystery around Bernadette’s disappearance, and it just doesn’t pay off. It lets some characters (namely, Bernadette’s husband and his personal assistant) off the hook for their actions. The plot builds like the ending is going to be some big reveal and a earth-shattering moment for all the characters, but the book just takes the easy route out. There is little payoff or consequences for the main plot or the some of the characters.

I absolutely loved the characters in this book. It was a relatively small cast which was definitely a positive – they were all integral to the story in some way. No one was treated as a prop and all of them had their own growth and subplots. Bernadette was a fascinating woman who had some clear issues, but stood her ground and defended her family tooth and nail. Audrey (Bernadette’s neighbor who she routinely refers to as a gnat) was a big surprise for me – she started off as a very typical type A mother whose child can do no wrong and ended up being one of the most relatable and likable characters in the entire book. Bernadette’s family members – Bee and Elgin (Bernadette’s husband) were also good characters – though as I said before, Elgin got left off the hook and never really felt like he completed his character arc.

Overall, this is a good book – not great, but definitely not bad. It would have been a 5 star read if it weren’t for the ending. The book lets characters off the hook that it shouldn’t have and it felt like a cop out after so much story building to that moment. 4/5.

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20 Comments

  1. I felt fairly meh about this one. There were just several plot points I found entirely unbelievable. But the characters were quirky and likable in a way.

  2. I was also quite interested to pick this up when it was super popular, but never really did. Thanks for the review, it sounds like a fun read.

  3. I’ve read a few rave reviews for this one. The ending of a book is often a deal breaker for me.
    Gemma @ Gemma’s Book Nook

  4. This sounds very interesting however I’m not sure I want to get riled up ehile reading and not have a very rewarding ending.

    Thanks for the review btw! I have another booknto hunt down on goodreads!

  5. I’ve been wanting to read this book, but haven’t had the chance. Seems like an okay book for so much hype. I might actually wait for the movie, but we’ll see. Thanks for your review!

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