Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Originally published April 2013

Turns out crazy mommies in literature live in Seattle, too.

I do loves me some wacky, and Maria Semple brings her A game with “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”—the story of middle schooler Bee Branch and her attempt to piece together the whereabouts of her mother, the reclusive Bernadette Fox, a once-promising architect now reduced to spending nearly all of her time in a trailer in the back yard of their home in Seattle.

The tale of Bernadette and where the hell she went is revealed through a series of emails, faxes and letters interspersed with narrative from Bee—beginning in mid-November, when Bee extracts a promised holiday trip from Bernadette and her father, Microsoft wizard Elgin “Elgie” Branch. Bernadette really is a recluse, but she loves her daughter so much she’s willing to attempt the voyage, and turns to her online virtual assistant Manjula for all the travel prep.

Complicating things are the helicopter parents of Galer Street School, including Audrey Griffin and Soo-Lin Lee-Segal. Audrey is in everybody’s business, and Soo-Lin just wants to be in Elgin’s. With school fundraising crises, pick-up line confrontations, “not my kid” mentalities and a push for “Mercedes Parents,” the middle school storyline is enough to make the book worth picking up for a gossipy good time. But it’s Bernadette’s past that’s truly intriguing, heartbreaking and devastating all at once.

Before you know it, the FBI comes knocking, interventions are being planned, someone gets pregnant, and Bernadette’s gone missing. But just how the heck did she escape? You have to read the book to find out. Too much more and I’ll give the whole thing away. Props to Bernadette, though—there’s getting away from it all, and then there’s GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL. And I really, really want to live in the Twenty Mile House. I do, I do, I do!

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