Summary: A year after her divorce, Helen decides to go way out of her comfort zone — she’s trusting her irresponsible little brother with her beloved kinda mean dog and embarking on a wilderness survival course. She’s ready for a fresh start but a familiar and unexpected addition to the wilderness team in addition to all the time spent in nature, turns the trip into a different kind of adventure.
Happiness for Beginners is one of the only books where I can remember seeing almost an unanimous reaction amongst readers: they could not stop and read it in one sitting. I’m joining those ranks. Mostly. If I had just started it a little earlier, I would have finished it in only a few hours. What’s the mysterious formula for a book of this caliber?
In this case: snappy, fresh dialogue; a main character you feel invested in; an unbelievable setting.
Like Helen, I’m not much of a nature girl. I have never gone camping. If I did, it would have to be the “fake” kind with showers and toilets. It’s brave as hell for Helen to go off for three weeks with a backpack full of nothing (no shampoo), one book of her choosing (!!), and do something so out of her normal routine. When life isn’t looking great and you have no idea where to turn, there’s nothing better than shaking it up in an enormous way, right?
Most of the people participating in the wilderness course have had some experience and are in a different age bracket than Helen. She’s feeling lonely at home with her singledom and now she’s thrown in with a bunch of people who look at her like she’s the old person. (She’s only 32.) She has to work to make connections with people while attempting not to die out in the wilderness. The pressure! Even though she’s feeling weak and incapable, Helen learns to feel empowered and rediscovers her confidence — by getting to know new people, opening herself up to strangers, and getting zen with nature.
Two characters I love: Jake — her youngest brother’s best friend and a surprising revelation — and Grandma Gigi — a lady who still knows how to have fun and is beyond wise. Helen is forced to come to terms with the truths surrounding the hierarchy of her family, as well as — gasp — think of her younger brother as a real person and not just the annoying thorn in her side. It can be difficult but it’s amazing how learning our siblings are real people with lives and feelings too can give us such clarity.
An unexpected gem, I’d suggest Happiness for Beginners to any Bethany Chase or Liza Palmer fan — they make for a trifecta of smart, thoughtful women’s fiction. We need more books where we see a character facing moments of vulnerabiity and bravery in unexpected yet realistic situations. We can all find a little bit of ourselves in Helen and her story. This is a book to add to the “let’s buy for everyone you ever talked to” list and meant to have a long life on my most trusted bookshelf.
An early copy of this book was supplied by the publisher. Thanks!