Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center was absolutely the women’s fiction novel with which I was supposed to begin my new year. This book was also the perfect example of how subjective reading can be.
Happiness for Beginners
Helen Carpenter is ready to take her life back. She sets off across the country for a three-week wilderness expedition in which she will reclaim herself. Only her brother’s best friend, Jake, needs to hitch a ride with her. You see where this is going.
Helen of the Wild
The premise of Happiness for Beginners may sound a lot like some recent female self discovery journeys that have been popular of late. I picked up this Katherine Center gem for the first time more than a year ago. I love listening to Center’s books, and I listened to the first eight minutes of this one and put it down.
There was no click.
As a die hard Katherine Center fan, this was shocking. I can easily curl up directly into a Center book with a spoon and devour it like a hot fudge sundae. So what was wrong with Happiness for Beginners?
It was the wrong time for me to read it. I picked it up again on New Year’s Day and BAM! It gave me the emotional side swipe Center is known for, and I reveled in it.
This is exactly what this book blog is about. The subjectiveness of stories and how they change even as we read them. Happiness for Beginners was exactly that, and I loved how I instantly connected with the story the second time around.
It’s All in the Family
I love character driven fiction as mentioned several times before on this book blog, and Center is a pro at this. There is a whole cast of amazing characters in this women’s fiction novel, but I want to focus on Helen’s relationships within her own family.
I love when different characters view the same situation with completely different conclusions. This is lifelike and relatable, and it works to show the humanness of a character.
The interactions between Helen and her brother and grandmother are magical and poignant as they work to unpack the same shared trauma. The characters themselves are unique and complex, but it’s the interactions where they really shine.
The Hero’s Journey
Let’s talk about Jake, Helen’s brother’s best friend, and unexpected tag-along on this trip. I don’t do spoilers, so I’ll talk around Jake’s very big deal here. This is one of the most gripping hero journeys I have read in a very long time, maybe ever.
There’s an expectation that heroes need to be perfect. Their conflicts are usually psychological. Not so with Jake. Jake is facing an insurmountable, life-changing obstacle that had me turning pages to the very end.
Helen was the only person who could have shared in Jake’s journey, and how they come together is raw, real, and heartbreaking.
Who Should Read Happiness for Beginners
If you like…
- Road trips
- Self discovery journeys
- Funny rom coms
- Fish out of water stories
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center is for you.
I’m so glad I chose this women’s fiction novel for the start of my 2022 reading year. Center’s writing is a level above the rest, and it was a simple joy to read her words.
Ellie Kemper is set to star in the movie adaptation, and I will be 100% there for that.