Study Guide

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Introduction

By Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Introduction

Bee Branch is who your parents wish you were.

She excels in school. She's a killer musician. She's sweet and thoughtful and nice to everybody. The only problem: she wants her family to take a cruise to Antarctica to celebrate her graduation from eighth grade. We might not be impressing our parents, but at least we're not dragging anyone to the South Pole.

Her decision kicks off an insane series of events. These events include, but are not limited to: a mudslide, her mother Bernadette's sudden disappearance, an affair, one out-of-wedlock child, an FBI investigation, and at least one brush with the Russian mafia. Yeah, it's a lot. As Bee struggles to make sense of these crazy circumstances, she ends up learning not just why they happened, but also the secrets her mom has been hiding from her since she was born.

As cool as the story is, the real magic of Where'd You Go, Bernadette is the way it's told. Instead of being written like a straight-forward story, the novel is told entirely through documents (emails, letters, hospital bills, and these old things called "faxes") which have been compiled by Bee in an attempt to solve the mystery of the missing mom. It's a mockumentary in book form.

And did we mention that this sucker is hilarious? Besides novels, author Maria Semple spent her career writing for some of the biggest TV comedies ever, including Arrested Development, SNL, and Ellen. Still, Bernadette might be her greatest success so far, spending a year on the New York Times bestsellers list, earning a nomination for the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction, and eventually being adapted into a film starring Cate Blanchett and directed by Richard Linklater.

So, does Bee find her mom? Or does Bernadette pull an Amelia Earhart and drop off the grid forever? You're just going to have to do some sleuthing (or reading, at least) to find out.

What is Where'd You Go, Bernadette About and Why Should I Care?

Sometimes life doesn't go as planned.

Maybe your big, romantic prom proposal was as well-received as a death in the family. Maybe your first try at the SATs barely broke double digits. No matter the specifics, failure is something that everyone experiences at some point. The important thing is how we respond to it.

Just take it from the characters of Where'd You Go, Bernadette. Elgin is struggling with a failing marriage. Audrey can't figure out why everyone is accusing her son of being a drug dealer. Our titular hero, Bernadette, has been knee-deep in regret for well over a decade, ever since her much-lauded architectural career was abruptly obliterated.

Despite their similarities, each character has a different reaction to their fates. Some blame others. Some perform self-reflection and improve themselves. Some do both. One even sends their Social Security number to the Russian Mafia, but that's another story for another time. Regardless, we can see from the novel's characters all the right (and wrong) ways to deal with disappointment, learn from them, and apply those lessons to our own lives.

Sending your personal deets to the Russian mob? Yeah...we're gonna call that a wrong one.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Resources

Websites

Maria Semple's Homepage
Are you a Semplemaniac? A Sempleholic? A Semple Stan? Well then boy do we have a website for you.

Visit Seattle
For a more, ahem, positive depiction of Seattle, check out the city's tourism homepage.

Movie or TV Productions

Where'd You Go, Bernadette (2019)
What's the only thing better than having your book made into a movie? Having your book made into a movie starring Cate Blanchett. Win.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Trailer
With a killer cast, including Cate Blanchett and Kristen Wiig, and legendary director Richard Linklater at helm, the film adaptation of Bernadette is as hilarious as the novel.

Articles and Interviews

Maria Semple on Seattle
This interview with The New York Times focuses on Semple's personal feelings about Seattle and their influence on Bernadette's character.

Maria Semple Interview
Although this interview focuses on Today Will Be Different, another one of Semple's novels, it contains some killer insight into Bernadette as well.

Video

Maria Semple on Satire
This fascinating chat focuses on the satirical elements of Where'd You Go, Bernadette.

Maria Semple on Writing
This interview dives deep into Semple's literary influences and personal approach to writing fiction.

Audio

Searching for Bernadette in Seattle
This interview with author Maria Semple gets into the personal aspects of the novel, namely Bernadette's often contentious relationship with Seattle.

Maria Semple Podcast Interview
If you want an even deeper dive into Maria Semple's perspectives on life and writing, this detailed podcast interview should do the trick.

Images

Bernadette's Future Roommates
Hopefully, at least.

Choate Academy
No wonder all the students here are rich. This place looks like Hogwarts.

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