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 read this book literally in one sitting while recovering from mouth surgery!
It is now my fifth book by Katherine Center and it’s become my comfort read!
Her books have a way to shine and bring light even on the gloomiest days.
In Happiness for Beginners, we follow Helen Carpenter when she is determine to become a “new her”, one year after divorcing her husband.
Katherine Center could have chosen to dwell on the marriage and divorce but we only get a few words about why she left her husband as the purpose of the book is to focus on Helen’s journey!
Helen is thirty two, has always been bad at PE and yet she is embarking on a very daunting survival course for three weeks in the wilderness. This shows how much she aspires to change!
Being the organized teacher, she has a list of goals to achieve on that journey:
“-Find a deeper spiritual connection to nature;
-Push myself beyond my physical and emotional limitations;
-Rise up from my own ashes like a Phoenix;
-Toughen the hell up;
-Kick the wilderness’s ass;
-Earn a damned certificate”
As you can see she is very motivated!
On her trip to Wyoming, she will give a lift to Jake, her baby brother’s best friend. Ten year younger than Helen and…with a big crush on her since he met her for the first time… on her wedding day!
What was interesting is that Helen has never really “seen” Jake but suddenly, he’ll appear hotter! Another haircut, more muscles, a strong jawline, cute glasses…
And soon enough Jake will also be the Alpha of the hikers. He is likeable and draws everyone in like moth to a flame. He also is very capable, and will be their EMT. He also is a fountain of knowledge about wilderness.
Jake and Helen are polar opposites as she will seat on the outskirts of the hikers group for a long time and she has no clue about hiking or camping.
But that’s the goal of course. To see how pushing yourself out of your comfort zone will help you grow.
By the end of the book, Helen will still be her old self but she will have another perspective on life. She will have learned to appreciate things. Helped by Wendy, the gorgeous psychology student, she will learn one of the many secrets to happiness. And it’s not very hard. You have to train your brain to focus on the happy rather than on the sad. And you begin with writing three good things that happened to you every day.
I have tested that theory and I can tell you that it works!
I loved that aside from the challenge of the survival course, we got a glimpse in Helen ‘s very dysfunctional family dynamic. And I loved how her family story slowly unraveled to reach and unexpected conclusion and a new beginning. And how talking with Jake, with Daisy and with others helped Helen to finally appreciate her little brother, Duncan.
Duncan who indeed is failing at many things but is always trying!
And isn’t it what’s more important?
I also loved every side character as they proved that often, people are more than a first impression and even the sorority girls or the juvenile and very extreme instructor can grow on you!
This was a smart feel good read that I recommend to everyone who is in need of some uplifting book with something to learn from and make your life brighter.
Thanks for reading!