Book Review – Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center
July 13, 2015
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.
I’ve heard lots of rave reviews on Happiness for Beginners, and I was looking for a light summer read for the 24 in 48 Readathon. This book was right up my alley, and it was perfect for this weekend!
- I love the concept of rediscovering yourself on a physically grueling journey. This has elements reminiscent of Wild by Cheryl Strayed, except that it involves a group of people on an organized hike instead of just a lone traveler.
- I was unfamiliar with the Absaroka Mountains in Wyoming. Center elicits such beautiful images of the mountains throughout the novel, and I totally want to book a trip and go hiking right now!
- I loved the characters of Helen, Jake, and Gigi. They are all so down-to-earth and relatable. I would be willing to hang out with any of them on a Saturday night. I love how they are honest about their issues and their weaknesses, and I love how they grow in their acceptance of who they are and what they’d like to change as the novel progresses.
- The pacing was excellent. I was drawn into the book the entire time I was reading, and I didn’t want to stop!
- This is a lighter read overall, and it’s perfect for the pool or beach this summer (or if you have a flight that you need to entertain yourself on).
- I love the lessons about happiness and empowerment that are interspersed throughout the story, but not in a “lesson-y” way. There were so many great statements and quotes about happiness that I think are so true. Here are a few of my favorites (I love how brief, yet powerful, they are):
” Happiness is more about appreciation than acquisition.”
“It’s sadness that gives happiness its meaning.”
“Wanting without hope is torture. Wanting with hope is anticipation.”
“Even just trying, I decided, could be an act of bravery in itself.”
- Center could have developed the character of Helen’s mother a little more. She clearly was a key reason for the issues Helen was facing, and her influence was notably absent throughout the novel.
- I am baffled as to why authors always fall back on poor communication between two people as the basis for building romantic tension. Have the characters talk to one another about obvious happenings, and build the tension in other ways!
Overall, I highly recommend this one if you are looking for the perfect summer read! You will love it!
Have you read Happiness for Beginners? What are your thoughts?