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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Book Review: Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

I read two of Ms. Center's recent books, Things You Save in a Fire and How to Walk Away, and really enjoyed them, so when I saw this book will be reissued later this year, I figured I'd give it a read too, and see if her recent success means her writing has changed or improved. I'm happy to report I liked this one as much as those!

Now Ms. Center's books tend to be more solidly commercial women's fiction than I usually read, but I do think they're a step above the average in that category. And I do find them to be compelling reads.

Helen got divorced last year, after her husband became an alcoholic and didn't want to fix that. She's 32, an elementary school teacher, and feels like her life is stagnant. In an effort to rediscover herself, she signs up to do a strenuous 3-week hiking/camping course. While attempting (and failing) to drop off her dog with her 10-year-younger brother, she finds out to her dismay that his roommate, Jake, is going on the same trip. She'd really wanted to go alone. (Of course there are others on the trip, but without anyone she knows.) She agrees to drive him from Boston to Wyoming but then they're going to pretend like they don't know each other. Which becomes infinitely more difficult when he confesses he's been in love with her since the minute he saw her (awkwardly, at her wedding).

Now, she's not outdoorsy. She's only been car camping. She's about 10 years older than everyone else on the trip, bright young college students, and the leader looks to be 15 (he's obviously not but it doesn't help her confidence.) She's one of the slowest hikers. But she's bound and determined that she's going to get one of the 3 coveted certificates awarded at the end to the three best participants (measured more by effort). But Jake is so distracting, especially as he flirts with the beautiful, kind, and smart Windy (not a typo.) On this trip, Helen will reach deep inside herself to discover her own limits and depths, and she will come out the other side a changed woman.

This book reminded me a lot of Wild, albeit with a less crazy background, if it had mixed with a book club book. It didn't make we want to go camping or hiking, but it did serve as a great reminder that we are each of us in control of our own happiness, especially in our reaction to others. And it's a good idea every day to think of at least 3 good things that happened that day. And to address blisters as soon as you feel a hot spot forming--don't wait!

This book is published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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