Narrator: Marguerite Gavin
Published by Blackstone Audiobooks on March 24th 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Contemporary Women, Fiction
Length: 9 hrs. 19 mins.
In this exuberant novel, a thirtysomething-year-old woman embarks on a wilderness survival course and discovers that sometimes you have to leave things behind in order to find yourself.
A year after getting divorced, Helen Carpenter, thirty-two, lets her annoying 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.
In Happiness for Beginners, Helen wants to get over her divorce and start living again. Her first big step is to conquer a wilderness survival course, and along for the ride is her younger brothers friend Jake – who has always had a crush on her. Helen’s journey of self-discovery is filled with humor, heart, surprises, and a little danger, and may even make you long for a little outdoor adventure.
I am not the outdoorsy type at all and would scoff at the idea of a night in the woods. No bathroom, no showers? No thanks. (Glamping Tom-Haverford-style, I’d maybe consider) Helen is not the athletic, hiking sort either but takes drastic measures to get out of a rut. Her brother worries about her survival, but Helen’s got something to prove.
At 32, Helen is the oldest camper by a long shot – many are there for college credit. She thinks she’s the dead weight in the group- and further isolates herself by pretending not to know the popular “J-Dog” Jake. (She earns the nickname Holdup) The campers were asked to bring one book along (!) and Helen chose not to in favor making her own experiences. (Could you bring an e-reader I wonder?)
I liked seeing how Helen evolves over the course of the trip- finding hidden strength, trying new experiences and seeing the good in others. There are daily hikes, tasks, and tests to complete and I felt like I was right there with Helen, blisters and all. Unexpected dangers keep the campers on their toes and Helen’s confidence grows with each passing day.
In the background is the attraction between Jake and Helen. Jake is ten year’s her junior, and someone Helen hadn’t really considered as a romantic interest before. But they bond on the drive to the campsite and share a moment. She worries she missed her chance with him when the beautiful, kind camper Windy sets her sights on him. The romance is a sweet diversion and I liked Jake a lot, but the real appeal for me was Helen’s own journey.
Besides Jake and Windy, I enjoyed Helen’s relationships with her brother Duncan and her grandmother Gigi. It’s interesting how communing with nature and experiencing some life-death moments makes you reevaluate your relationships. And I know this won’t mean anything to those of you that haven’t read this book but I have to say I am still traumatized about the cooler contents.
I listened to the audiobook of Happiness for Beginners, performed by Marguerite Gavin and I think she does a good job. Gavin has a clear, pleasant voice and sounded like how I imagined Helen would sound. She also does a nice job with making each character’s voice distinct without over-doing it. I’d listen to her again. Here is a sample:
Check out Happiness for Beginners this summer and maybe you’ll be inspired to take your own outdoor adventure course! Have you read any books by Katherine Center before- which would you recommend I read next?