The main protagonist of the novel Happiness for Beginners is thirty-two year old Helen Carpenter. Helen is a recent divorcee, who one year after her divorce, decides to go on a hike to become a stronger better person. This hike is no normal walk in the park. It is an intense, away from any civilization, three week, fourteen people group hike. The Back Country Survival Company (BCSC) is in charge of guiding a group of hikers on hardcore trails and teaching them survival skills. Helen even signs a liability waiver as people have been seriously injured and have even died on this hike. On the flip side this hike has become a popular trend as all who survive and live to tell the tale come out stronger and ready to take on the world. On this hike the three best members of the group get a certificate and Helen is determined to be the recipient of one such certificate.
Helen is derailed from her plan when she is coerced into giving her younger brother’s friend Jake a ride to the same hike she is going on. Through the mental and physical challenges she faces during those three weeks she learns new truths about her past, makes new connections and starts on a better path to her future.
Happiness for Beginners is filled with a multitude of relatable and flawed characters. One such character is Duncan Carpenter, Helen’s younger brother. He is best friends with Jake and very bad at remembering and keeping promises. Duncan has a deep feeling of guilt that he tries to bury. He often inadvertently annoys his older sister. Another character is Duncan’s best friend, Jake Archer. He is very smart, nerdy, a great outdoorsman, and a former medical student. Jake is reevaluating his life after finding out some life altering news. He is trying to find his way and wants to travel all over the world while he does so. There is also Helen’s Grandma Gigi, a vivacious and outrageously honest eighty year old. Grandma Gigi has no qualms, will tell it like it is and always have a wise word whether you like it or not.
In this novel not only are the characters true to life but so are the situations Helen goes through. The hiking scenes contain beautiful imagery and descriptions of nature while simultaneously pulling you into the Helen’s mind with her many goals, doubts, misconceptions, dreams and fears. Helen Carpenter goes on the hike to get out of her rut. She doesn’t want to feel down about herself and wants to become more confident and tougher.
“Chuck Norris doesn’t call the wrong number. You answer the wrong phone. … And even though I knew the jokes were, in fact, jokes, I had … a bizarre affection for Chuck Norris—and, also, for the idea of toughness in general.”
Through the events Helen goes through she comes to rise above others and her own expectations. She learns that the little things in life not only count but really matter and not to become bogged down by minor mishaps. Helen gets out of her comfort zone and learns to overcome obstacles, forgive herself and others and to be happy.
Katherine Center is a contemporary fiction author and essayist. Center is a Houston, Texas native and she lives there with her husband, two children and dog. She has published five books. Happiness for Beginners is her latest novel and the first of three books being published through St. Martin’s Griffin. Her next two novels are set to come out in 2016 and 2017. Center’s book have and continue to win many awards. Her novels have even been translated and foreign published. Katherine Center speaks at many book events, creates video essays and is active on many social media sites.
Her website is: http://www.katherinecenter.com
Her Twitter handle: @katherinecenter
Recommended for readers aged high school and above.