“My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.” ~~ Maria Semple in Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
From Lauren’s Perspective:
I’m going to start somewhere I don’t usually start in these book reviews, I want to talk about the cover. Although I’ve never mentioned it before, I believe that the cover of a book can completely sell a novel. It can also completely ruin one. There are hundreds of books I have passed by, even if I thought I’d be interested in the story, because the cover is atrocious and I can only assume that means the text inside will follow suit. There are too many books out there for me to waste time on ugly artwork. So I thought I’d start by saying that this is one of the best covers I have seen in a long time. It drew me into the book before I even knew what the book was about, partly because of the beautifully contrasting colours, and partly because of the equally interesting title . Either way, whoever created this cover design: Well done. I think it will catch a lot of eyes, and don’t worry, what’s inside is every bit as beautiful and contrasting as the cover.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Is the story of a mother and daughter. It is the story of family dynamics, and the story of love. It is told from the point of view of Bernadette’s fifteen year old daughter, Bee, through correspondences between her mother and anyone who had been in contact with Bernadette leading up to her disappearance.
The layout of this book is fantastic. It does not read in regular prose, but instead, you read letters and emails passed between various characters. It is a fascinating and different way to learn about a characters personality and surprisingly easy to read. When I first began, I did think it might be hard to follow the seemingly haphazard style that Maria Semple undertakes, however, Semple does a beautiful job mixing in letters with regular prose, taking us back and forth between Bernadette’s point of view in all her correspondence, and Bee’s point of view in the space in between.
The book was an absolute pleasure to read, and when you add in Semple’s beautiful knack for writing, the story becomes impossible to put down. Semple writes in one of her more meaningful moods, “”That’s right,’ she told the girls. ‘You are bored. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.” It is through writing like this the the book really sold me. I have always appreciated a good story, even those that are sometimes not written all that well (*cough* twilight *cough* *cough*), and really, I will read almost anything (Except Ulysses. I tried. I really tried.) But when you throw together not only a wonderful story, but also beautiful prose; well that’s pretty much my heaven and it was close to perfect.
So far, here’s what you have learned from me, without giving away any spoilers: The plot is haphazard and jumpy, but brilliant. The writing is simply beautiful, it’s simple and beautiful. Now, what about the characters? I always find the most important thing (to me) in writing and reading characters is the ability to relate to the characters. Obviously I’m not going to relate 100% of the time to every character, but I like to find a part of myself in each of them, no matter how fantastical, as a way of truly being able to understand the characters. This book is a perfect example. Bee is an over achiever, brilliant just like her parents, and not the most popular girl at school. We have little in common, but I loved her. I loved her because I could be a bit of a loner like her, and in that I found a common bond. She is wonderfully written, precocious, and so smart you could die. And what’s weird, she has an amazing family dynamic, this amidst a story where her mother inevitably disappears. You find yourself yearning for friendships with your parents akin to the ones Bee experiences, and that’s an amazing thing.
Bernadette herself is perfect, in my opinion, because of her flaws. Her life is a little off kilter, but she stands tall and proud when people start accusing her of her life being off kilter. I love that. Confidence in a woman who knows she has worth despite the fact that she is going through a small mental breakdown. Reading some other reviews, I heard some people write that they didn’t like the character of Bernadette, that she was too whiny. I couldn’t disagree more. She is a strong woman who stands up for herself despite her fears. Yes, she makes some bad decisions, but she is intelligent and strong through it all. And honestly, I don’t find anything wrong with being a little crazy. Bernadette is so full of love, I don’t know how anyone could dislike her. She writes in a letter to Bee near the end of the novel the most perfect description of her passions and, through that, her beautifully broken mind, “Every single iceberg filled me with feelings of sadness and wonder. Not thoughts of sadness and wonder, mind you, because thoughts require a thinker, and my head was a balloon, incapable of thoughts.” Her mind was amazing, despite everything going wrong within it as well. As for the secondary characters, I won’t go into detail about them as they played an important role in the book and were written well, but were not nearly as interesting as the two main characters. I will say this about them: They all have flaws that are at once delightful and infuriating. They are all perfectly human.
In the end, all I want to finish by saying is this: Read this book. It is a beautiful tale of a mother and daughter, but it is also so much more. It is the story of a life going wrong, trying to pick up the pieces, but standing tall and proud throughout. It is a story of confidence in yourself, and having hope when hope is all but lost. Please pick up this book if you have the chance.
Plot – 5/5
Writing/Style/Form – 4/5
Characters – 4/5
Enjoyment/Entertainment Value – 5/5
Overall Score – 18/20