Where'd You Go, Bernadette

If she aces her report card, precocious Bee Branch, the 15-year-old narrator of Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette, is promised a trip by her over-the-top, over-achieving parents. But when Bee--an only child, born with heart problems--makes perfect grades and picks Antarctica as the family destination, all hell breaks loose.

Bee's mother, Bernadette Fox, a once-renowned architect, has been in an anxious, emotional funk for years that has forced her to outsource the minutiae of her life (at a rate of 75 cents per hour) to a woman in India. It doesn't help matters that Bee's father, Elgin Branch, a workaholic bigwig at Microsoft, uprooted the family from Los Angeles to Seattle, a city Bernadette feels has "zero architectural integrity," is filled with "the slowest drivers you ever saw" and has become overrun with tourists and overly compassionate do-gooders. Add a meddling, Seattle-born secretary at Microsoft and a neighbor obsessed with destroying Bernadette because she views her as rude and antisocial, and what emerges is an acerbic, dark, satirical comedy. The day before the family's departure, Bernadette, who is dreading the South Pole vacation, disappears. Amid the search, surprising discoveries are made and bombshells are dropped.

Semple (This One Is Mine) stitches together this funny, inventive story via e-mails, letters, FBI reports, magazine articles and interspersed narrative passages told in Bee's voice. This fresh, original dramatic structure brings levity to harrowing and complex domestic issues. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

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