Book Discussion Questions: Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Cover of Where'd You Go BernadetteTitle: Where’d You Go Bernadette
Author: Maria Semple
Page Count: 330 pages
Genre: Humorous Fiction
Tone: Offbeat, Exuberant

Summary:
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

1. How did the epistolary format impact your reading? Did it make it more intimate?

2. Much of the beginning of the book focused on Bernadette’s relationship with Audrey Griffin. What did you think of Audrey? Why do you think she and Bernadette didn’t get along?

3. What did you think of Bernadette and Bea’s relationship?

4. When Bernadette “escaped” from the intervention, she asked Audrey to send all the emails to Bea, and said “I know it’s a lot, but she can handle it. I’d rather ruin her with the truth than ruin her with lies.” What did you think about that?

5. Did Audrey’s character change or did we just get a new perspective?

6. Did your opinion of Bernadette change when you found out she was a successful architect?

7. Paul Jellinak brought up the point that Bernadette only created 2 houses and both were for herself. Do you think she could have had a career in architecture with actual clients?

8. Who’s fault was it that the 20 mile house was destroyed? Did Bernadette have any extenuating circumstances in regards to her actions?

9. Ellie Sito criticized Bernadette for not being tough enough. She would knit as she worked. Do you think woman then or now need to take on male stereotypes to be successful?

10. Why didn’t she fix up her house in Seattle?

11. Did you find any of this novel to be spiritual?

12. In an email to Manjula, Bernadette was discussing how much she disliked Canadians because of how everybody was equal. She said, “Some people are extraordinary and should be treated as such”. What do you think of this statement?

13. Why do you think Bernadette didn’t discuss her feelings of failure with her husband? Why did she write that soul-bearing letter to Paul Jellinac instead?

14. What did you think of Paul’s response: “Are you done?  You can’t honestly believe any of this nonsense.  People like you must create.  If you don’t create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.”

15. What did you think of Elgin Branch’s character? Was there enough meat to him?

16. What were your thoughts on the TED talk?

17. Do you think Elgie loves Bernadette now? Did he love her in the past?

18. Elgie was furious with Bernadette for denuding the hillside and causing the cave-in that destroyed the Griffens house. Why was he so furious? Was he right to be that mad?

19. Why was Elgie so bent on getting Bernadette committed?

20. During the intervention, Elgin let Soo-Lin stay. What are your thoughts on that? Would you have done the same?

21. Why did Dr. Kurtz resign after the intervention?

22. What does the future hold for Bernadette and Elgie’s marriage?

23. How do you think Bernadette will react to Soo-Lin’s pregnancy ?

24. Do you think that there are any true victims in the novel, if so who and why?

25. What did you think of VAV (victims against victimhood)?

26. Do you identify with any of the characters?

Other Resources:

Lit Lovers’ Reading Guide
Book Club Companion Discussion Questions
Video Interview with Maria Semple
Q and A with Maria Semple
Semple’s exploration of Microsoft

If you like Where’d You Go Bernadette, you might like…

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The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter
Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

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