Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Happiness For Beginners - Review & Giveaway

Review by Darcie Czajkowski
Having doesn’t make you happy; appreciating does.”

Helen Carpenter has forgotten what it’s like to be happy. She likes her job as a first grade teacher. She likes her moody, eccentric dog, Pickle. But mostly she just feels numb and has ever since she divorced her alcoholic husband a year ago. And for the six years before that while she dealt with their tumultuous marriage, which finally ended after she miscarried their first child and her husband was unreachable.

Helen is not adventurous. She is not outdoorsy. She is not someone who seeks out risks, especially ones that involve near-death experiences. But she knows that if she doesn’t change something, she will continue living in an isolated fog. So when her younger brother, Duncan, whom she never listens to or takes advice from and is generally just annoyed by his existence, suggests a wilderness survival course, she surprises him – and herself – by registering for it.

She plans to go on this trip alone. Granted, there will be a guide and eleven others with her, but she isn’t there to make friends. She’s there for herself. It’s about her personal journey. It is about becoming a stronger, more alive woman than before. It is definitely not an experience that she wants to share with Duncan’s best friend, Jake, whom she learns is also taking the course when he asks to hitch a ride with her from Boston to Wyoming. Helen has no interest in interacting with a guy who is ten years younger and kind of goofy. Or at least that’s how she’s seen him since he and Duncan became friends in high school.  

But feeling like she can’t say no, Helen agrees to take Jake and comes to find out that he’s had a crush on her from the first day he saw her: on her wedding day to her now ex-husband. Since her divorce, Jake has been hoping Helen would notice him, but he never entered in her purview, likely due to the fact that he was Duncan’s friend, a brother she never warmed to. A brother that was a surprise to their family and caused massive changes in Helen’s life as a child.

Yet to Helen’s surprise, the drive to Wyoming with Jake isn’t bad at all. In fact, she finds herself enjoying his company to such a startling and unsettling extent that she insists that they pretend they don’t know each other once they arrive at the course. Because Helen is going on this trip to better herself, not get mixed up with some younger guy.

So while Jake is off making everyone in their group his best friend in that easy, natural way he has of interacting with people, Helen feels like an outcast. She’s a decade older than the rest of the group, including their guide, Beckett, who looks about fifteen. She is participating for self-discovery; the others are there to get thin and tan, to fulfill college credit, or to wrestle with the jaws of death and live to tell about it.

But when things start to get tough, Helen begins to question whether her strategy is best and wonders if there is a little good, some lesson to be learned from each and every one of her fellow hikers.

Katherine Center’s Happiness for Beginners surprised me as I was expecting the hike and its attendant physical, mental, and emotional challenges to be the central focus of the book. I expected descriptions of what it’s like to use a dirt hole as a toilet. To not wash your hair for twenty-one days. To wear the same sweaty, stinky outfit day in and day out. I expected perpetual mishaps and near-death encounters with snarling bears. That was not this story. I came to learn that the wilderness course acted as a vehicle for Helen to learn more about herself and teach her how to reconnect to and be present in her life. Katherine Center shares a valuable, relatable message on how recovering from a crushing loss can be a bumpy road, a journey that requires traversing many valleys before you reach the peaks. One quote from the book that I loved: “I had finally come to understand that not getting what you want is actually the trick to it all. Because not getting what you want forces you to appreciate what you already have.” For that thoughtful advice and much more, I’d recommend Happiness for Beginners.  

Purchase the book at:

About the Author:
Katherine Center is the author of four bittersweet comic novels about love and family, including The Bright Side of Disaster, Everyone Is Beautiful, Get Lucky, and The Lost Husband. Her books and essays have appeared in Redbook, People, USA Today, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Real Simple, Houstonia, the Dallas Morning News, The Houston Press, and the Houston Chronicle, as well as the anthologies Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers on the Mother-Daughter Bond, My Parents Were Awesome, and CRUSH: 26 Real Life Tales of First Love. 

Katherine recently signed a three-book deal with St. Martin's Press. Her newest book, Happiness for Beginners, goes on sale March 2015, and her next one is in the works.

Katherine also Facebooks, Tweets, makes video essays, teaches writing, and speaks to all kinds of groups and book clubs. She lives in her hometown of Houston, Texas, with her awesome husband, two sweet children, and their fluffy-but-fierce dog.

Connect with the author at:

St. Martin’s Press is giving one lucky winner a print copy of
Happiness For Beginners by Katherine Center
US Only

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