Monday, December 26, 2016

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

Reviewed by Ambrea

Helen Carpenter—thirty-two and divorced—has decided it’s high time she get her life together and reinvent herself.  She wants to do something wild, something adventurous, something completely out of character for her—like enduring a three weeks’ long survival course in Wyoming.  A bit extreme, as Helen would admit, but she’s sick and tired of her well-behaved life.

As Helen’s new adventure takes off, she’s set to begin the strangest adventure of her life where she will survive various dangers—including a summer blizzard, a group of sorority girls, rutting elk, trailside injuries, and infuriating men—and learn something about herself along the way.  Helen quickly discovers, “[S]ometimes you just have to get really, really lost before you can even have a hope of being found.”

I absolutely loved listening to Happiness for Beginners.  After picking it out on a whim, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed listening to Marguerite Gavin relate Helen Carpenter's story.  Gavin was an excellent narrator, lending her voice and attitude to Helen, making the story come to life.  It was an exceptional experience:  I found myself laughing in the midst of every chapter, thoroughly enjoying the narrator’s company as I walked my dog.

Although I enjoyed the retelling of Katherine Center’s novel, I also enjoyed the story and the characters.  Helen Carpenter is a candid narrator, a vivid storyteller, and a wonderful character, developing as her story builds and transforming from tentative, broken-hearted grade school teacher to a thoughtful, more knowledgeable woman.  She grows closer to her brother; she gains friends; she learns how to survive in the wilderness.

And it’s wonderful to see how she develops, how she accomplishes her goals and, more importantly, manages to surprise herself in the end.

Her adventure is ludicrous—three weeks in the wilderness, surviving on her wits and little else—and her story is full of unintended twists, which even she acknowledges.  She goes in search of a new identity, in search of happiness and a piece of herself that she feels has been missing for years.  It’s fun to watch her reinvention, to see her “rising from the ashes like a phoenix”—one of her many goals for her survival course.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to witness Helen’s growth as a character.  Helen is a really marvelous character:  smart, a touch sarcastic, insightful, courageous and thoroughly grounded in reality.  As a recently divorced woman, she’s been through the wringer and managed to come out on the other side—and I like that she succeeds in reinventing herself and reevaluating her life, as well as her relationships.

Overall, Happiness for Beginners was the perfect combination of narrator and story.  Something about the way the author wrote and Marguerite Gavin retold the story made me enjoy every minute of it.

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