'Three Good Things.'

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

Release Date: March 24, 2015
Publisher: Macmillan | St. Martin's Griffin
Pages: 320 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
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Summary (from Goodreads)
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.

Thoughts on Happiness for Beginners
Happiness for Beginners wasn't on my radar until Estelle from Rather Be Reading tweeted about it. Then, she wrote a note about it on Goodreads, and it was her reference to Liza Palmer that sold me. You may already know, but I'm a huge fan of Liza Palmer. That's all it took to convince me I needed to look into this book!

A few days later, I was browsing in the book section of Target. It's the same place where I discovered my first (and favorite) Liza book - Nowhere but Home - so it's probably fitting that I'd stumble upon this one there, too. With a gift card burning a hole in my pocket and Estelle's praise bouncing around in my brain, I grabbed this book, read two pages, and immediately took it to the check out. Once I got home, I took a quick picture for Instagram and figured I'd stick it on my shelf for later. But I couldn't get those first two pages out of my mind, and I realized I was desperate to know more about these characters and what happened next. I planned to read a few chapters that night... and then stayed up until I'd read the whole book.

I finished the book and knew it was going to be an all-time favorite for me. I texted Estelle to freak out over the book with her, and then I told at least four of my friends that they had to read it. And the best part? I pushed it so hard (and apparently so effectively) that two of them bought it the next day and both read it within the week. Yes, y'all, it was that kind of book for me. It's one that I read at exactly the right time and made me wonder, "What if I'd gone my whole life without reading this book?!" Because honestly the summary didn't sound bad, but it wasn't calling my name either. Thank goodness I listened to Estelle!

At it's core, Happiness for Beginners is a simple and somewhat familiar story. Helen Carpenter is thirty-two, divorced, and determined to get a new perspective on life. She signs up for a wilderness survival course when her annoying younger brother suggests it - though he certainly wasn't expecting her to follow through by choosing the most dangerous one available. Helen thinks it will be the chance she needs to reinvent herself, until she finds out that her brother's even-more-annoying best friend will be there, too. She's not sure what to expect on this three-week adventure, but she's in for quite the surprise.

While the summary seemed a bit generic to me, the story inside was anything but. Katherine Center's writing took this story to another level. I cared about the characters from the very first page and that continued until the very last one. I fell in love with Helen - her heartbreak in the past, her discomfort in the present, and her hope for the future. She was both vulnerable and guarded, weak and strong, brave and scared. I could relate to her on so many levels, despite having very different life experiences, and it made me so attached to her story. There's someone else inside who really stole my heart, but I don't want to give too much away. Let's just say that the guy in this book is now firmly in my list of top ten favorite book boys... and maybe even in the top five. He's smart, passionate, kind, helpful, and will have you swooning as soon as you get to know him.

This book contained some of my all-time favorite dialogue, and I can only hope I'll find more of the same in the author's backlist. It's so sharp and witty - I wanted to underline whole sections of it and read it aloud to my husband. With great writing and fantastic characters, I knew within a few chapters that I was already obsessed with this book. And then I realized that the setting was excellent, too. I'm not really an outdoor person. I've gone camping, hiking, and rafting before, but it's not my preferred way to spend my leisure time. However, I identified with Helen's reaction to the wilderness and just loved the way it came alive on the page. I didn't necessarily want to join her there, but I can't complain about experiencing it through her while reading.

And ultimately, I loved the heart of this book. I was rooting for Helen and adored her personal growth. I desperately want to talk to you about some of the themes, but I feel like it's kind of thing that's best if it slowly works its way into your heart while you read. There are some profound ideas expressed, and I imagine that every reader will find a different one that speaks to them.

Happiness for Beginners exceeded all of my expectations, and it's earned a spot on my forever favorites shelf. I started flipping back through to find a quote for my review, and ended up reading it again. If I love a book enough to read it twice in one month, it's definitely earned my highest rating! It's about getting lost so you can be found. Seeing with your heart, and not just your eyes. Finding and choosing to remember the happiness around you. It's got hope, longing, anticipation and more on every page. BUY IT, AND I'M NOT SAYING PLEASE.

So Quotable
"But the things we remember are what we hold on to, and what we hold on to becomes the story of our lives. We only get one story. And I am determined to make mine a good one."


  1. I am so excited to read this!! Ordering now!!

  2. I laughed when I saw you reference "four friends", mostly because I was one of them and I wound up adoring Happiness for Beginners too! It might be more subtle in terms of themes, but it packs a powerful punch. I also just fell really hard for Helen, her hiking group, her brother and grandmother - it was so interesting to read about everyone (from Helen's perspective, of course). So glad I read it!

  3. I think I need to get this book as soon as possible. I was talking to one of my friends the other day about buying a ticket to Dublin, Ireland and just going there so I think this book might help ease my immense wanderlust. "Helen thinks it will be the chance she needs to reinvent herself" really stood out to me because I'm always in need of something to catalyst a change for me. Great review Hannah!


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