"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple. (Why Did Nobody Mention the PENGUINS?!)

January 21, 2013 Book Club, Humor, Pretentious 33

Hello my Bookworms,

I’m hosting this month’s neighborhood book club meeting, which means, among other things, that I got to choose the book. I decided on Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, because I’d seen that a lot of my favorite book bloggers really enjoyed it. Everybody who reviewed this book mentioned its humor, of which there was plenty, but NOBODY mentioned the PENGUINS.

I’m sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. This book is comprised of a series of emails and other correspondence between characters that are loosely woven together with narration by the novel’s 15 year old protagonist. The book is set among Seattle’s elite against the backdrop of private school drama. Bernadette is not your typical private school parent. While the other mothers volunteer for decoration and recruitment committees, Bernadette emails her personal assistant in India to make dinner reservations. Bernadette’s antics do nothing to endear her to the other mothers, particularly her neighbor Audrey Griffin. While Bernadette is eccentric and not interested in joining in, her daughter thrives and is an outstanding student.


Who doesn’t enjoy a snarky, quirky fish-out-of-water story? Granted, you have to get into the right frame of mind to enjoy this book, there is plenty to be enjoyed. If you’re familiar at all with the show Weeds (which is about a suburban mom turned drug dealer), I can tell you that Audrey’s character reminded me a TON of Celia Hodes. For whatever that reference is worth. I don’t know if you all share my penchant for premium channel dramedies.

Anyway, the bulk of the narrative takes place through passive aggressive emails. It’s a good time. The very best part of this book, for me though, was the trip to Antarctica. When Bee comes home with another perfect report card, she reminds her parents of a promise they’d made her to take a family trip to Antarctica as her reward f0r good grades. I know what you’re thinking… “I didn’t get JACK for my good grades.” Aside from the occasional Book-It personal pan pizza, I didn’t either. But, you know. Rich people do weird things.

What’s the coolest thing about Antarctica?! Penguins live in Antarctica! (If this is your first visit to Words for Worms, you may require some background information on my penguin problem. Check out that link and then come back. Back? Okay good. Now check this one.) Through this book, I learned all about what taking a trip to Antarctica actually entails. It’s fascinating! Do I ever want to go? Not really. It’s super expensive and it’s really really cold. (They do, however, have a Penguin encounter at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, I’m wondering if I can get the husband to take me to celebrate the big 3-0? Nothing says “I’m only kind of an adult” like spending a milestone birthday meeting and greeting penguins. Am I right?!)

I don’t want to ruin the book for you (you can tell I really like something if I’m not willing to post spoilers.) I will tell you that I’m EXTREMELY excited to host Book Club with this as my topic. Now I just need to create a cocktail to mimic “The Pink Penguin” that they serve aboard the Antarctic cruise ship. Anybody have ideas on recipes they want to send my way?!

33 Responses to “"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple. (Why Did Nobody Mention the PENGUINS?!)”

  1. writingmom2013

    Interesting – I’ve seen this book @ B&N, and had also heard that it’s good, but had not heard anything specific about it. I don’t usually like epistolary novels, though. Was this one exceptionally well done?

    • Words for Worms

      I don’t know that I can speak on behalf of all epistolary novels, but I thought this book was excellent. It helped that the narrator jumped in from time to time to fill in some of the gaps left by the emails. I thought it read with a very clear narrative, which I think is the biggest challenge when constructing a novel like this.

  2. alenaslife

    It’s a great book for a discussion group. I’m sure you guys witll have a blast. Did you know it’s already been optioned for a film? I sure hope they can hold on to the slightly desperate humor that Semple writes.

    • Words for Worms

      I didn’t know it was being made into a movie, though I can’t say I’m surprised. The epistolary style makes it a challenge to put on screen, but I can see it going fairly well… Or tragically bad. I guess time will have to tell.

  3. didibooksenglish

    Everything I’ve read about this book makes me want to read it. It’s even on Times Top 10 best books of 2012, next to another book I need to read The Fault in Our Stars. Ok, ok TBR list getting longer and longer…….

    • Words for Worms

      Okay, the good news? Both this and The Fault in Our Stars are short fast reads. I’d recommend reading either after a big long brick o’ book. You’ll feel so accomplished because it’ll take no time at all to finish them!

  4. Sarah Says Read

    I didn’t really like this book a lot… the mom was kind of ridiculous, and I hated the father. I DID enjoy all the suburban-mom mocking, that was fun 🙂

    And holy crap I miss those personal pan pizzas! I wish I still got mini-pizzas for reading.

    • Words for Worms

      I can see how you could be annoyed with some of the characters. I liked it, but I can appreciate the other side of the coin. I also want rewards for reading. They shouldn’t all be pizzas though, because I would like to continue wearing the pants I already own.

  5. Michele Siglowski

    Can’t believe I stumbled upon your blog while searching for a recipe for a Pink Penguin cocktail for my own book club meeting! I will continue to follow. See how alcohol brings people together?

    • Words for Worms

      Ha! This makes me ridiculously happy! I went with a sangria made with white zinfandel and pink lemonade. It was quite tasty, but don’t go overboard on the fruit… Makes for difficult sipping. 🙂

  6. Carol

    This makes a delicious “Pink Penguin”, icey cold and not too sweet. It’s really a French Martini. You can add the prickly pear syrup for additional jewel-pink color. My book club loved it. Shake well over ice:
    3 parts pineapple juice
    2 parts vodka
    1 part chambord
    1/2 part prickly pear syrup

  7. Natasha

    Found this blog searching for a recipe for Pink Penguin. Love reading all the comments. I am hosting book club tomorrow night and I love to theme my menu based on the book: So, I’ll use the French Martini recipe idea from Carol, and for the meal I’ll borrow from the Daniel’s Broiler Menu: Iceburg Wegde Salad/w Maytag Blue Cheese Dressing, Risotto with Chantrelle Mushrooms (I live in the Pacific Northwest and it is mushroom season!), then Olympic Ice Cream (a local favorite) with homemade cookies for dessert. Bernadette would never cook all this, it would be take-out, but I think this menu works. Loved the book, but then, Seattle is only an hour away from me, so it is fun to read about our region.

  8. Marsha

    Poop Stew, I seriously can’t stop laughing, you could make a stew using mini smoked sausages, lol. Great minds think a like because I came across your blog searching for a pink penguin recipe, drum roll, I’m hosting book club this Thursday and I choose this book too. I have frozen blackberries I picked this summer so I’m thinking of making a blackberry cobbler. I also invited everyone to dress up like Bernadette just for fun 🙂

  9. Rachel Tuerck

    I think it’d be better to use cachaca (A Brazilian distilled liqueur from sugar cane), since the crew was going from South America to Antarctica. Look up various ways to make a Caipirinha cocktail (the national drink of Brazil), and add just enough POM to give it the right shade of pink. Cheers!

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