Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

happinessHelen Carpenter, first grade teacher, divorced, and washed-up at thirty-two, decides that a three-week group wilderness hike in Wyoming is exactly what she needs to jump-start her life.  She doesn’t realize that she’ll be sharing the experience with her younger brother’s best friend, beginning with the long drive from Boston to Wyoming.

By association, Jake Archer, as her brother Duncan’s buddy, should be as big a slacker as she perceives Duncan to be.  To be sure, he’s snarky and infuriating at first, but Jake grows on Helen – there’s way more depth to him than she expected.  They do slightly more than flirt, and then argue.

On their arrival at the trailhead, Jake agrees to ignore Helen as much as possible, and she is determined to make her time on the trail a personal transformation.  Helen doesn’t count on the remainder of her trail cohorts all being college age, or that Bennett, their director, looks like he’s barely started shaving.  Or that she hasn’t a clue what challenges in the great outdoors entail.

Through beating treks, weather extremes, and injuries, our group of collegiate misfits (plus Helen) learn how to click with each other and survive.  Jake proves amazingly resourceful, a renaissance outdoorsman skilled enough to pull Helen and others from the brink of peril more than once.  Unfortunately, there’s a pretty girl who’s smart as hell that Helen admires and Jake apparently falls for – and Helen finds that growing past her jealous tendencies is sometimes harder than dealing with foot blisters or snowstorms.

Happiness for Beginners is a feel-good/sad-in-places chick-litty kind of book that is a breezy read, driven more by dialogue than narrative.  It’s not high literature, but the book is still a good read.  I always enjoy fiction about arduous hikes and outdoor challenges, and Happiness… delivers in this regard.

(William Hicks, Information Services)



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