Author: Maria Semple
Narrator: Kathleen Wilhoite
Publisher: Hachette Audio (Little, Brown and Company)
Release Date: April 2nd, 2013 (paperback), August 14th, 2012 (audio)
Interest: ALA Alex Award
Source: Purchased via Audible
Summary (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.
The audio for Where’d You Go, Bernadette is thoroughly enjoyable simply because of the narrator, Kathleen Wilhoite. She is expressive, enthusiastic, and engaging. I have a hardcover copy of this, but one of my students was reading it when I decided that I wanted to read it as well. My student still has my copy, and I’m having trouble remembering all of the characters’ names, so I can’t look back to be more specific. I bring this up because Wilhoite did such a good job reading the characters that Bernadette refers to as “gnats”. Many of the characters are, in my opinion, extremely dramatic. I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed those parts as much if I read this traditionally. The way Wilhoite depicted these dramatic episodes often made me smile and laugh because I could hear just how ridiculous the character was being.
While the audio is entertaining to listen to, it is often hard to follow. The book is written using a series of emails, documents, letters, etc. which required me to focus more than normal while listening. I had to pay attention to the speakers, how they were communicating, why this was going on, etc. That was the most troubling part of the audio.
I loved the audio, but the actual book/story left me with mixed feelings. It’s been a few weeks since I finished reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette and I honestly don’t know what I think yet. For over half the book I kept wondering about the point of the story and where it was going. I finished it and still don’t know. Did I miss something major? Am I not smart enough to get it? Or is it really just a detailed account of a person’s life as a troubled adult? I’m trying to read more adult fiction to appeal to more of my students, which is part of the reason I read this. If a student asked me about it, I really wouldn’t know what to say. I’m looking forward to my student finishing my copy so we can discuss it.
I do understand why the ALA Alex Award panel chose Maria Semple’s novel. Bee is a great teen character who’s struggling because of her parents. She’s smart and witty and fun, but she’s also dealing with her parents’ crumbling marriage and her mom’s bizarre episodes. I know plenty of teens who could relate to Bee. And ultimately, Bee’s voice becomes one of the most important voices in the entire novel.
The book part of this review is short since I don’t know exactly what to say about it. I recommend the audio, and if you’ve read this, I would love to chat with you about it.