Where'd You Go, Bernadette? By Maria Semple
What a great book! There were moments when I was so frustrated with the behavior of the characters that I wanted to throw the book down, but this was balanced by the fact that I could not stop reading.
Bee Branch lives with her parents, Elgin, a Microsoft genius and Bernadette Fox, an enigmatic housewife with a past. We just don't know what it is for a nice chunk of the book. Bee is in the eighth grade at a local charter school. She gets perfect grades, is loved by all and has been accepted to an exclusive boarding school on the east coast. She's had a hard little life. She barely survived birth and has undergone multiple heart surgeries, but she's healthy now, although she is very small for her age.
Our story told partially by Bee, but most of the story is in the form of emails, notes and official reports. It begins with Bee cashing in on a promised gift for her perfect grades. What she chooses is a trip to Antarctica. Bernadette doesn't get out much, to the point that she has outsourced all of her errands to a virtual assistant in India who works for 75 cents an hour. Elgin is up to his ears in a huge top secret project at Microsoft, where he is a something of a rock star. Of course, being good people and good parents they agree and plan the trip. Then all hell breaks loose.
It doesn't help that Bernadette has a contemptuous relationship with the next door neighbor. And, Elgin's new administrative assistant is the next door neighbor's best friend. These are the kind of women who just love to dredge up trouble for everyone who has the misfortune to be in their way.
I don't want to give away what goes on in the book. I'm pretty sure that if I started getting into more of the tale, I'd be completely incapable of not spoiling the story. I really don't want to spoil the story. It's too good. Semple created characters so believable in their strengths and their faults. The semi-epistolary made it seem like the reader was involved in figuring out what's going on. And, best of all, she knows that no one is all good or all bad and often, there's a lot more to people than you realize at first.
Ms. Semple's website has the cutest doll done up as Bernadette. You should check it out.
Update: This movie was ousted by The Orphan Master's Son in the first round of the Tournament of Books. I can't imagine how good Son must have been, but I can assure you, I'll be finding out.