Whatcha reading? Where'd you go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Does it ever happen to you that the way someone sees something is so antithetical to the way that you see it that you literally can't understand how it is possible that the other person sees it that way? No, this is not going to become a political screed about abortion or guns or some other political hot topic. Rather, it is my attempt to understand why Bernadette's husband and child think that she is so great while to me she appears a selfish, whiny, egomaniacal, antisocial bitch. 

Now Bee I love. Talk about a kid who has survived every obstacle that life has thrown at her—being born blue with a massive heart defect, having a father who works every minute of every day, having a best friend who isn't much of a friend, attending a school where each person is nuttier than the last, and did I mention, having a terrible mother—yet who cheerfully accepts each day's challenges as another kid might enjoy a trip to the amusement park or destination of choice. When Bee decides that what she wants as a prize for her report card is a family trip to Antarctica, I thought of course that is what she would want.

Her father? A Microsoft guru who wants to make life easier for disabled veterans but can't see that his own daughter needs a father, that his wife may be just left of sane and sound at this point, and that it isn't normal to live in a house where the gardener has to weed-whack inside isn't much of a guru in my book. He at least is enthusiastic about the trip, unlike Bernadette.

The Galer Street School interactions made me laugh out loud (though if you want to laugh until you cry read Maria Semple's piece in The New Yorker entitled "Dear Mountain Room Parents"). Bernadette's fellow parents Audrey Griffin and Soo-Lin Lee-Segal would try the patience of any saint going, yet Bee has thrived here. It is Bernadette who is unable to cope—with anything besides dropping and running, even if a fellow parent's foot might or might not be in the way.

Another aspect which I enjoy is my difficulty in classifying this book. I have written before about how I think genres hurt as often as they help readers find books right for them. In this case it's hard to say whether it's YA contemporary (since it is written in Bee's voice), coming of age fiction (ditto), or simply contemporary fiction (given its modern structure of interspersed text, dialogue, letters, emails, sticky notes, official documents, and more). The structure is clever, witty, engaging, and of today in every way. But will the absent Bernadette grow on me?

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