A Book Review of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild
A national bestseller and a memoir of Cheryl Strayed’s experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, this nonfiction book is a gripping and emotional story of a woman rediscovering herself and finding salvation in nature. Cheryl lost her mom to cancer when she was only twenty-two and it was a deeply heart-breaking time in her life. The book begins with her detailing her close relationship with her mom and her experience growing up with a loving, devoted single mother. She describes how stricken she was when doctors discovered that her mom had lung cancer and very little time left to live. Cheryl took care of her mom until the day she died, and continuously felt the tragic loss for years after. In the wake of that loss and without a father figure or a close relationship to her brother or sister, Cheryl self-destructed in many ways, including sleeping around and cheating on her husband and succumbing to a heroin addiction. One day while shopping in REI she noticed a book called The Pacific Crest Trail, Volume 1: California. She looked the book over and returned it to it’s shelf. However, the idea of hiking the PCT on a solo adventure returned to her, and she made the impulsive decision, despite her lack of hiking experience, to make the trek. The PCT is an extensive trail that travels across the country from the Mexican border in California to just north of the Canadian border, and it traces through 9 mountain ranges – the Laguna, San Jacinto, San Bernardino, San Gabriel, Liebre, Tehachapi, Sierra Nevada, Klamath, and Cascades. Cheryl started in the Mojave Desert where she ripped the tags off of her new hiking equipment for the first time and was barely able to lift her massive backpack. Without much preparation, Cheryl embarked on her three month long and 1,100 mile journey, and she narrates her experience with great detail. After completing the hike, she felt much more than the physical accomplishment of what she completed; Cheryl felt like she was finally able to come to terms with her mother’s death and her divorce, and to find peace in her life.
My Critical Opinion and Rating (3.5/5 stars):
Cheryl’s memoir of strength, of reclaiming her identity, and of finding peace in the great outdoors is a story of catharsis. Her narration of her journey includes so many endearing details, my favorite of which is her nicknaming her giant backpack Monster and addressing it by that name. She talks to animals during her hike, keeps score of how many toenails the PCT takes from her, and describes all of the intriguing people she meets while hiking. She struggles to overcome boots which were a size to small, a surprising shortage of funds for food, and a threatening encounter on the trail. I love the depictions of the beautiful landscapes throughout her hike as well as the details about the PCT. I also love how she intertwines memories as she copes with and overcomes her past in the beauty and solitude she finds on the trail. As a writer, she valued having books to read on her hike, so each resupply box had another book packed into it. To relieve the weight she had to carry, she would burn pages of the books each night after reading them until they disappeared completely into the ashes. I liked how reading in her tent after a challenging day on the trail was her requiescence because that is something I can relate to.
I have only a few qualms about the book, which lead me to give it a rating of 3.5 stars out of 5. My first critique about the book is that I was not instantly grabbed by the language in the beginning and felt hesitant about committing to the read; however, I was delightfully captivated and I thoroughly enjoyed Cheryl’s memoir. Another problem I have with her story is that I disagree with the extremely escapist viewpoint she possesses. Her method of finding herself and rebuilding her life revolves around running away from her problems, hurting those around her, such as her husband, and giving up everything to camp for three months. Many people face tragedy in their lives without cheating, doing hard drugs, having an abortion, and running away to the wilderness. Along with that, she also bears the mentality that she is exceptional; this comes from the generosity she receives from strangers on the trail and from her ability to do it without training. She is proud of her nickname as Queen of the PCT to say the least.
Overall, it was a beautifully recollected story of self-discovery and I would recommend the book as an excellent summer read, and I hope you enjoy it! Also, I hear there is a movie coming out soon with Reese Witherspoon producing and playing Cheryl’s role. It may be fun to read before seeing the film.
For an excerpt from the book and for more info. go to Cheryl Strayed’s Website
Picture of Cheryl