Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (Mommy and Me Book Club)

Thanks for joining my “Mommy and Me” Book Club. I hope you’re enjoying my ongoing “stay in bed and read” series. See my thoughts on the previous book, Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder. While you’re reading Whered You Go, Bernadette, don’t forget to share these picture books with your children that relate in theme!

Title:  Whered You Go, Bernadette

Author:  Maria Semple

Page No.:  352 pages

Publisher:  Back Bay Books

Price: $11.42 (paperback)

Genres:  fiction; humor, contemporary, mystery, women’s fiction, chick lit,

Summary:

Bernadette Fox has vanished.

When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms. Fox is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces–which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades. Where’d You Go Bernadette is an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are and the power of a daughter’s love for her mother. (From Goodreads)

Parenting Topics:

Without giving anything away (hopefully)…

  • Abandonment of Child(ren)
  • Children with Special Needs and Exceptionalities
  • Dating/Marriage
  • Education/Planning Child(ren)’s Future
  • Growing Up/Coming of Age
  • Home, Homecoming
  • Making Girlfriends
  • Mental Illness 
  • Milestones/Rite(s) of Passage
  • Miscarriage 
  • Mothers and Daughters
  • Parenting Styles
  • Single Parents
  • Social Isolation/Loneliness

Themes:

With a parenting focus…

Character

There’s no way one person can ever know everything about another person.

Crises

Keep calm and carry on.

Family

Nothing is stronger than the bond of family.

Friendship

Friends can provide a support network when family cannot.

Truth

Many times the truth is stretched, twisted, or ignored.

Lying isn’t the answer to problems.

Quotable Quotes:

On Anxiety

“I can feel the irrationality and anxiety draining my store of energy like a battery-operated racecar grinding away in the corner. This is the energy I will need to get through the next day. But I just lie in bed and watch it burn, and with it any hope for a productive tomorrow. There go the dishes, there goes the grocery store, there goes exercise, there goes bringing in the garbage cans. There goes basic human kindness.

On Boredom

“’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.'”

On Creativity

“People like you must create. If you don’t create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.”

“…That’s what people like you were brought into this world to do, Bernadette…Get your ass back to work and create something.” (Paul Jellinek – Laurence Fishborne)

On Heart Racing

“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.”

On “Here Comes the Sun”

“When “Here Comes the Sun” started, what happened? No, the sun didn’t come out, but Mom opened up like the sun breaking through the clouds. You know how in the first few notes of that song, there’s something about George’s guitar that’s just so hopeful? It was like when Mom sang, she was full of hope, too. She even got the irregular clapping right during the guitar solo. When the song was over, she paused.

‘Oh Bee,’ she said. ‘This song reminds me of you.’ She had tears in her eyes.”

On Introverts

“I’m not too good when exposed to people.”

On Seattle (According to Bernadette)

“It’s like a hypnotist put everyone from Seattle into a collective trance. ‘You are getting sleepy, when you wake up you will want to live only in a Craftsman house, the year won’t matter to you, all that will matter is that the walls will be thick, the windows tiny, the rooms dark, the ceilings low, and it will be poorly situated on the lot.'”

On Self-Loathing

“I hated my life enough without having to drive past a Buca di Beppo four times a day.”

Worth Staying Up Late For (after the kids have gone to bed?): 

  • Yes, Stay Up Late!
  • Maybe, But See What’s on TV First.
  • No, Go to Bed!

My kind brother-in-law and brilliant sister-in-law, who’s also a voracious reader herself, gifted me with Whered You Go, Bernadette on my birthday, along with the picture book Oh, Baby, the Places You’ll Go! by Tish Rabe. See accompanying post. This book is an awe-inspiring comedy about Bernadette Fox, a doting mother who’s compelled to rekindle her creative passions after years of sacrificing herself to her family. The book chronicles what happens to an artist who’s stopped creating.

Their gift felt so affirming because they were acknowledging something deeply personal about me – a special project, my blog. It was as if they were asking, Where’d You Go, (Insert my real name.)? I was a person before I was a mom. A person with unique interests and skills worthy of exploration and development. (Some parents – stay-at-home ones especially – feel like they “disappeared” after becoming moms and dads.)

This book explores mental health issues through the character of Bernadette. Her disintegrating house is a symbol of her deteriorating mental health. Suffering from social anxiety and acute adjustment disorder in anticipation of her family trip to Antarctica, Bernadette has “…grown accustomed to the way she is.” The matriarch admits to her family that “I’m in the weeds, but I can get myself out.”

If you’re too busy to read the book, there’s a movie! While the movie falls short of the book, there are a few must-see scenes including one where Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) and Bee belt out Cyndi Lauper’s “Time” in the car while the rain pours outside. Our female heroines sing to each other: 

“If you’re lost you can look and you will find me /
Time after time /
If you fall, I will catch you, I’ll be waiting /
Time after time

Mother and daughter find each other again and again in both story forms.

What I love about this book is it will make you laugh, and it will make you cry. Above all, it will make you ask the all important question, where’d you go after having kids?

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