Title: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
Author: Maria Semple
Publication Date: 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Price: $14.95 (Paperback)
Number of Pages: 330
Awards: Alex Award
Genre/Subgenre: Realistic Fiction
A daughter is determined to crack the case of her runaway mother.
Bee’s mother Bernadette has always been a little eccentric. After suffering an embarrassing career failure, Bernadette withdraws into herself, moving her family into a falling-apart old school and venturing out into the world as little as possible. Bee hopes that a family trip to Antarctica, a reward promised to her by her parents for good grades, will draw her mother out of her shell, but events take a turn she doesn’t expect and Bernadette runs away. Bee is determined to find out what happened to her mother and uses all the evidence at her disposal. Told in letters from the perspectives of Bee, the other mother’s at Bee’s school, and eventually Bernadette herself, this novel beautifully captures Bee’s love for her mother and how that love ultimately leads to Bernadette’s redemption.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is an extremely interesting novel. The epistolary format and multiple perspectives turn the reader into a detective, sifting through evidence like Bee does to find her mother. In this way reading the novel becomes a truly active experience that is rare and enjoyable. The theme of the parent-child relationship is extremely well-presented in this novel, and I think Maria Semple is able to perfectly capture the complications of that relationship in a way that will be relatable to readers young and old.
Why I Chose the Book:
As simplistic as this sounds, the title really got my attention. I wanted to know, “Who is Bernadette? Where is she? Why is she gone?” Just from looking at the cover I had questions, which made me want to read the book and have those questions answered.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Looking for Alaska by John Green
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Book Talk Ideas
Have your students or patrons plan a trip to Antarctica like Bee and her parents. Create an itinerary, a packing list, etc.
1. This novel features multiple narrators of various reliability. Who do you consider to be the most reliable narrator, and why? Who is the least reliable narrator?
2. For much of the novel, Bernadette and her motivations are hidden from the reader. Over the course of the novel, how does your opinion of Bernadette change? Do you become more or less sympathetic towards her?
Semple, M (2012). Where’d You Go, Bernadette? New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Company.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (2014). Maria Semple [Website]. Retrieved from:
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (2014). Goodreads. Retrieved from: