Study Guide

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Summary

By Maria Semple

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Where'd You Go, Bernadette Summary

Bee Branch is about to graduate from eighth grade, and there's only one thing she wants as a present: a cruise to Antarctica.

We'd go with a trip to Disney World or something, but that's cool too.

Her parents reluctantly agree. Her dad Elgin is a big-wig at Microsoft, working on an innovative new device called Samantha 2 that hooks directly into your brain. Her mom, Bernadette, was once the hottest architect in the business, but now spends her days as a shut-in, ranting and raving about how much she hates Seattle. In fact, Bee doesn't even know about her mom's past.

Bernadette doesn't like leaving the house, so a trip to Antarctica sounds miserable. She pawns most of the prep work on Manjula, a virtual assistant who lives in India who Bernadette recently hired. She even goes as far as getting Manjula to order a prescription for a powerful seasickness medication that doubles as an antipsychotic. Talk about overkill.

She falls asleep while waiting for her prescription, which happens to be when Elgin suddenly appears, having taken a work lunch. He's concerned about Bernadette, especially given her recent mental health struggles, prompting him to contact a psychologist. But he doesn't just think that she needs some therapy sessions; he thinks she needs to be committed.

Meanwhile, Bernadette is embroiled in a feud with her neighbor and fellow school mom, Audrey Griffin. Audrey demands that Bernadette remove blackberry bushes that are bordering their properties ahead of a big fundraising brunch Audrey is hosting, which accidentally triggers a mudslide during the event. Furious, Audrey verbally annihilates Bernadette, upsetting Bernadette so much that she decides she can't go on the cruise.

That's when the FBI gets in touch with Elgin. They tell him about Manjula, who isn't a virtual assistant, but in fact a Russian scammer, and Bernadette has given them tons of personal information. Even worse, "Manjula" is on her way to Seattle, presumably to scam the family out of everything they own or, worse, to do something to Bernadette.

With this intel in hand, Elgin convinces the psychologist to perform an intervention with Bernadette and commit her. It goes terribly. Bernadette disappears and Elgin nearly loses an eye trying to find her. Even with the help of the FBI, Bernadette is nowhere to be found.

A few weeks later, they receive a call: Bernadette has been located. She somehow ended up on the cruise to Antarctica after all. Elgin is there waiting when the cruise liner returns, but Bernadette isn't, even though she should be based on the ship's records. After an investigation, the cruise company insinuates that she got drunk and fell off the ship.

And that's not the only shocker. Elgin has gotten his administrative assistant, Soo-Lin, pregnant. They became a thing during the whole Bernadette crisis, and she ended up with a bun in her oven after their one brief encounter. Always use protection, folks.

Bee doesn't buy that her mom's dead, however. She convinces Elgin to go on their own Antarctic cruise so she can figure out what really happened. After some investigation, and thanks to the help of her pops, she traces Bernadette's footsteps to Palmer Station, a major Antarctic research station. Bee finds her mom and they share a warm embrace.

It turns out that Bernadette was saved by Audrey, who had a change of heart after learning about the intervention. Bernadette went on the cruise expecting Elgin and Bee to be there, but after realizing she was alone, she settled into a feeling of peace. What's more, she somehow scores a job redesigning Palmer Station, signaling a resurgence of her career as an architect.

Here's the real kicker: Audrey compiled documents detailing the whole sordid ordeal and sent them to Bee, allowing her to compile a book that tells the story of her mom's disappearance. That book? It's the one we've been reading the whole time. Meta.

So everything is dandy with the family. Bee's written her first book, Bernadette's career is back on track, and, er, Elgin has a lovechild. Well, two out of three ain't bad.

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