Study Guide

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Coming of Age

By Maria Semple

Coming of Age

[T]here are two words we like to use when describing our ideal student. Those words are "grit" and "poise." Your daughter tested off the charts for both. (1.246)

Bee is an exceptional young woman by any measure. She's got book smarts. She's got street smart. She's got killer flute skills. No wonder she's been accepted into the prestigious Choate academy, an East Coast boarding school where she'll rub elbows with the children of the nation's eliteā€“the future CEOs, politicians, and convicted Ponzi schemers of the world.

[M]y mind was wild with images of Choate. It was so vast and clean, and the building so majestic, red brick with icy on the sides. (1.272)

Our young heroine is pumped to be at Choate. She's spent her whole life within the quirky confines of Seattle, but now she's in a magical new place where she'll be able to grow into an even more dope version of herself. What could be better?

Bee [...] was born with a heart defect which required a half-dozen surgeries. (1.289)

Living to become a teen was no guarantee for a Bee, much less becoming as successful as she is, so she deserves extra cred for overcoming such steep obstacles at such a young age.

I'm totally fine now, and have been for nine and a half years. Just take a time-out and ponder that. For two-thirds of my life I've been totally normal. (1.298)

Bee hates it when people define her by her heart defect. For one, she hardly remembers it. She was so young at the time that she can't recall a single surgery. For two, she hates how people use it to baby her. She feels like a normal teen and wants to be treated as such.

Mom was raised Catholic and became an atheist in college, so she completely freaked out when I started going to Youth Group. (3.88)

Going to church as a form of rebellion? Now we've heard everything. Although Bee isn't religious herself, joining the Youth Group is a big deal because she's breaking away from her parents, choosing a path for herself that they certainly would not have chosen for her.

Maybe that's what religion is, hurling yourself off a cliff and trusting that something bigger will take care of you and carry you to the right place. (4.228)

Sounds a lot like being young. As a kid, you have parents around to care for you and carry you to the right place. Literally. How else are you going to get anywhere as a baby? Maybe Bee is drawn to Youth Group because it maintains this feeling of security despite the chaos surrounding her.

I felt so full of love for everything. [...] I felt so alone in this world, and so loved at the same time. (4.228)

Struck simultaneously with an appreciation for her parents and a desire to be her own person, Bee is overwhelmed by contradictory emotions. Balancing them is a huge part of growing up.

Sarah complained that Bee was spending study hours watching Josh Groban perform "O Holy Night" on YouTube. (5.46)

As it turns out, Bee has trouble adjusting to life at Choate. Also note that "O Holy Night" was sung at the Rockette's performance that Bee went to with the Youth Group. Why do you think that song is so important to her?

The silence got stiffer, then everyone looked at Kennedy, because she was my friend. But I could tell she, too, was afraid of me. (6.53)

Bernadette's disappearance forces Bee to grow up whether she likes it or not. Choate was a dud. Her home life is crazier than ever. And now even the Youth Group has turned cold towards her? Bee's comfort zone is non-existent at this point.

Yes, I selfishly can't bear life without you. But mostly, and I mean this, I hate the idea for you. You will simply not fit in with those snobby rich kids. (7.101)

This might seem like a classic helicopter mom moment, but we're sure that Bee agrees completely. She now has a better sense of what she wants out of life, and there's no place she'd rather spend her teenage years than Seattle, even if it lacks Choate's Hogwartsy mystique.

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