Adult Fiction · Chick Lit · Contemporary · Review · Romance

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center


A year after getting divorced, Helen Carpenter, thirty-two, lets her annoying, ten years younger brother talk her into signing up for a wilderness survival course. It’s supposed to be a chance for her to pull herself together again, but when she discovers that her brother’s even-more-annoying best friend is also coming on the trip, she can’t imagine how it will be anything other than a disaster. Thus begins the strangest adventure of Helen’s well-behaved life: three weeks in the remotest wilderness of a mountain range in Wyoming where she will survive mosquito infestations, a surprise summer blizzard, and a group of sorority girls.

Yet, despite everything, the vast wilderness has a way of making Helen’s own little life seem bigger, too. And, somehow the people who annoy her the most start teaching her the very things she needs to learn. Like how to stand up for herself. And how being scared can make you brave. And how sometimes you just have to get really, really lost before you can even have a hope of being found.

Source: purchased (thanks to the recommendation of Carrie)

Helen is taking an extended hiking vacation, never mind that she has never done anything like it before. She’s spent the last year, after her divorce, pretty much cut off from the world. All she can stomach for company is her little dog, Peanut, who hates everyone, including Helen.  Helen’s brother, Duncan, is supposed to be dogsitting, but him being Duncan (i. e., immature and irresponsible), he’s forgotten this promise.  Helen then learns that Duncan’s equally irresponsible roommate and best friend, Jake, is going on the same hiking trip as Helen and asks her for a ride.  Helen feels that Jake is part of the reason for Duncan’s inability to grow up and resents him as well as Duncan, but eventually relents and agrees to drive with him across country.

The trip opens Helen’s eyes to many things about Jake that Helen didn’t care to know before, such as changes to his appearance that she hadn’t noticed before because she never really saw him before as anything other than a kid who annoyed her as much as Duncan.

“I guess sometimes you just get an idea of a person in your mind, and that’s what you see when you look at him, no matter what.”

This seems to be an essential problem of Helen’s.  She gets caught up in how she perceives people and has a hard time seeing them as their true selves.  Helen is very stunted emotionally and has a hard time with people in general.  She is a generally unhappy and seemingly angry person.  She is ripe for a change of heart and a breakthrough, which she is hoping that this trip will deliver.  Helen wants to use this trip as a spiritual journey.  Jake’s presence would hinder her ability to be anonymous and take the necessary steps she needs to move on from her divorce.

Right from the start, Jake surprises Helen and continues to do so throughout the book.  I loved Jake because he never backed down, never gave up.  His optimism and charisma really drew me to him as a person because I generally tend to be more like Helen, closed off from new people and experiences. Helen has to continuously reevaluate both herself and Jake, as well as the other people they are thrown together with on this trip.  People start to distinguish themselves as separate entities rather than as the cliches that Helen attributes to them when she meets them.

I read this book in ONE SITTING.  I cannot tell you the last time that happened.  I stayed up until 1:30 reading this.  When I woke up I reread the last couple of chapters. I was so invested in these characters and this story that I could not put it down.  I wanted to know what would happen but I also didn’t want it to end because I came to love these characters.  I loved the hiking aspect of the book and seeing Helen find her true self and coming into her own.  I loved watching her change the other hikers perceptions of her, because she is not the only one who makes snap judgments.  I enjoyed watching her make friends and fall in love.

Make no mistake, this is a book about falling in love.  There is a really special, lovely, satisfying (and slightly shocking) relationship that develops and that, in part, is what made me keep turning pages.  But Helen’s journey is about more than romance and you are pulling for her every step of the way.  One of the most satisfying aspects of this book is that Helen’s perceptions of the people around her change, she’s no longer stuck in the same frame of mind, and she comes to see that she is capable of more than she realized.  Helen’s journey helped me to realize that I might be more capable than I realized, too, and to try to find a different way to look at things and to open myself up to new experiences. Let’s go hiking! (No, kidding).  And now I must find and devour Katherine Center’s entire backlist.



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