Four of my favorite people (three from real life and one from the internet) recommend Where’d Yo Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple, before I picked it up earlier this week. I love getting book recommendations, but sometimes when people talk a book up it and I see it highly reviewed in the media I have unrealistically high expectations. So I started the book thinking there is now way this book is going to be as good as everyone says it is. Within the first pages I knew I was wrong. I stayed up late into the night, laughing out loud, racing through the book to figure out the mystery, and wishing I had someone other than my teddy bear, Cinnamon, next to me in bed that I could read funny parts out loud to. And that’s why I want to take a short departure from writing about YA books to tell you to go read this book. It is worth all the hype. I promise. The book starts in a similar vein to other mysteries. Fifteen-year-old Bee knows her mother has disappeared but no one will tell her why. Bee assembles emails, official documentation, journal articles, and letters to find Bernadette and determine the cause of her absence. She intersperses these documents with her own commentary and memories of events, to tell the story of her brilliant, quirky mother, her technological guru father, and the bizarre social world of Seattle.
The highlight of the book are the emails sent between other mother’s at Bee’s private school gossiping about Bernadette. The school preaches inclusivity. Their mission statement defines a key value as “connectitude” to which Bernadette responds, “You people don’t just think outside the box, you think outside the dictionary!” However the mother’s resent Bernadette’s lack of involvement in school activities and get into power struggles with her that escalate to hilariously high proportions.
I think of prep school satires belonging on the East Coast, but Bernadette’s (and Semple’s) ability to satirize Seattle also stands out as a major strength in the novel. At one point she writes to a former mentor: “Its like a hypnotist put everyone from Seattle into a collective trance. “You are getting sleepy, when you wake up you will want to live only in a Craftsman house, the year won’t matter to you, all that will matter is that the walls will be thick, the windows tiny, the rooms dark, the ceilings low, and it will be poorly situated on the lot.”
While the book is definitely not young adult, what I found most interesting while reading was the thought that the very adult story is told through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old. It gives the documents a different weight knowing that Bee is the one curating nasty emails about her mother, documents showing her mother’s life before she was a mother, and intimate and at times unpleasant details of her parents marriage.
As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It’s hard to balance comedy and satire with real emotions, but Semple accomplishes this feat marvelously. I hope you take a chance on it and let me know if it lives up to your expectations.