Finding happiness…in a (deadly) survival course?

TitleHappiness for Beginners  AuthorKatherine Center

  • Genre: Fiction, Chick-lit, Contemporary
  • Words to describe: Fun, witty, survival training, coming-of-age, 30-somethings
  • Rating: 3/5 stars


  • Want a lighter, fun read
  • Are in the mood for a 30-something refinding herself
  • Are in the mood for something like Wild

A year after getting divorced, Helen Carpenter, thirty-two, lets her annoying, ten years 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…

I can’t say I liked Helen. She was whiny, and seemed immature to me. And though she somewhat grew by the end of the book, I still didn’t like her much. For a 32-year-old woman, she didn’t seem to 1. know her mind well, 2. differentiate between love, lust, and infatuation.

She “fell in love” with her younger brother’s best friend, even though I don’t see how they ever truly got to know each other well.

Helen was all over the place, and I thought any growth I saw by the end was superficial.

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.

I get she starts to grow her own skin and learns to assert herself and be content and grateful, but it was too shallow for me to take seriously, and I found myself itching for the book to end before it did.

All the characters seemed like caricatures and cookie-cutter personalities, like the kind, “wise” and pretty girl, the jock guys, the gossipy “girly-girls” and so on. It was too much, and I never respected Helen’s intelligence or competency. I wanted more from and for her, and never got that.

Also, the survival wilderness course Helen went on to “find herself” wasn’t that difficult – though it was supposedly dangerous and grueling. I understood they hiked a lot and lived in the wilderness for three weeks, but aside from one fo the attendees having to be evacuated for broken bones, there didn’t seem to be anything unusual about the course. As much as it was talked up, the survival training didn’t have that wildness I was expecting–and wanted.

The writing was solid enough, sure, and the plot didn’t have major holes, but all in all, I wanted more out of the story, and it didn’t quite deliver.

4 thoughts on “Finding happiness…in a (deadly) survival course?

  1. overtheshill says:

    I haven’t read this yet, but I like Katherine Center’s other books How to Walk Away and Things You Save in a Fire – have you checked either of those out?

    Liked by 1 person

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