Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Title: Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
Author: Maria Semple
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Length: 330 pages
Original Publishing Date: January 1st, 2012
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: Audiobook from the e-library
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
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

Main characters: 4.5/5

At first I thought that I really didn't like Bernadette. She is over-the-top, wacky and sometimes just plain off her rocker. But, I'll give Semple props, she pulled through. Bernadette is touchingly fragile while at the same time stubbornly independent. She is one of those characters who you love to hate, and I know a lot of people out there truly did hate her. For me, it's all back to that realistic-likeable scale (okay, well, Bernadette may not exactly be realistic either but...). I can't stand a character who the author is so concerned about making likeable that it entirely ruins them. Bernadette is not likeable. She makes mistakes, she doesn't even try to fix them, and she is rude to people (see: her rant on people in Seattle. I'm from the Pacific NW, but even I could laugh at some of the truths behind her angry speech). But Bernadette's downfalls are realistic (although the situations that she puts herself in are not).

Secondary characters: 3.5/5

Bee is delightful. She falls into this odd in-between where half the time it seems like she's 10 and the other half like she's 40. Luckily, this is exactly how I pictured her in my mind: a partial girl-genius, who is still remarkably insecure and immature.

Bernadette's husband, Eligie, is not immediately as unlikeable as Bernadette, however he gets there over the course of the novel. Of all the characters, I was most disgusted with him. Unfortunately, we don't get as good a look into his mind, so it's hard to realize his motivations.

Audrey (who shares my name) is unfortunately the antagonist. What's up with that? Anyway, she fits the hovering parent stereotype wonderfully and adds some great conflict and dimension to the story. Plus, she's hilarious.

Writing style: 4.5/5

Semple has a unique writing style. There is no way that you can mistake it for someone else. And I like that. The novel definitely has a slapstick comedy sort of humor, but if you think you can appreciate that, this one's for you. Don't mistake this for a clever sort of funny. The epistolary format (a collection of notes, emails, memos, etc.) works well here, especially when you get to the end and hear the motivation behind it.

The pacing was a little slow at first, and I honestly almost thought I was going to have to put it down.  However, it sped up into a frenzy and I became involved in Bernadette's life. Semple developed the mystery perfectly, involving me more and more in their lives. I just wish that there had been those intriguing moments a little earlier in the novel.

Plot: 3/5 
I was a little put-off when I first began reading Where'd You Go, Bernadette?. The subject matter and plot is a little ridiculous and a little silly, and the novel starts off slow and with not much action. The plot and mystery picks up in the second half and really captures you. The satire aspect wasn't necessarily the funniest part to me, but I just loved the interactions of the characters and their outlandish ideas.

Ending: 4/5

Although the novel went in a different direction than I first thought, I really liked the depth behind Bee's emotions and the familial interactions taking place. Add in some of that characteristic ridiculousness, and it was a pretty satisfying ending.

Best scene: The mudslide

Reminded Me Of: Nothing I've ever read before

Positives: Unique and humorous writing style, entertaining plotline, interesting and fully fleshed out characters

Negatives: Slow pacing to start, Elgie was a bit of a weak character

Cover: So pretty! I love this cover. It's unique and the shapes of the cover are really intriguing.

Verdict:  I think unique is the best way to describe this novel. Calling it a breath of fresh air is cliche but it really was.77

Rating:  7.8 / 10 (4 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

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