A 2013 Alex Award winner (meaning its a book in the adult section found to be highly appealing to teen readers), Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a laughable and adventurous satire packed with hilarious characterization and witty dialogue mostly in the epistolary fashion using email correspondence, letters, police reports, report cards, and other documents. Modest readers might find some strong language offensive yet very in-character when utilized.
You’ll find hilarious characters, some to love, some to hate, and some to drive everyone crazy! Semple pokes fun at Seattle’s subcultures of anti-fashionable, pro-geek, tech-talking, community-oriented, hyper-diverse, ultra-green, alternative-lifestyle embracing citizens. Semple herself is a transplant to the Seattle region from Los Angeles, as is the character Bernadette, where she wrote screenplays for “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “Ellen,” “Mad About You” and “Arrested Development.”
Caution, spoilers (because the events are revealed asynchronously and non-chronologically): Bernadette Fox has escaped her failed career as a genius architect by isolating herself in a crumbling fortress of a home where she can’t sleep and torments herself with self-pity. She’s become so anti-social that she’s hired a virtual assistant to handle even the most mundane logistics of her life. For years, her precious 15-year old daughter Bee has been Bernadette’s only reason for living. Bee’s been promised this trip to Antarctica as an award for her perfect report card (Her Microsoft-guru dad can afford it). Now, she’s having a panic attack brought on by the prospect of accompanying Bee through the sea-sickening Drake passage, “the roughest and most feared water in the world,” and this leads to a series of outrageous circumstances that culminate in a final resolution that just might restore Bernadette’s artistic passion.
The narration, and actual singing, by actress Kathleen Wilhoite, is extraordinarily energetic and adds much to the listening experience of the audiobook version, which I was whizzed through completely enraptured with joyous laughter. When hearing her voicing the hysterics of the ‘gnats’ (aka the condescending moms of Bee’s classmates at Galer Street School), I was reminded of Tea Leoni’s over-the-top character in the movie Spanglish.