Book Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild - Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

By Cheryl Strayed

My Rating: 4 Stars

Wild is the amazing story of a woman, broken from the life she has led, who impulsively decides to hike an 1100 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail.  But this book is so much more than that. I’ve read reviews of this book and found them to be quite harsh.  Perhaps these reviewers have never suffered great loss in life and been floundering around in the world with no direction or purpose.   Many of them seemed overly critical of Ms. Strayed.  Some even went so far as to call her self-absorbed.  I’m sorry, I didn’t see this at all when I read the book.  I saw a very broken woman searching for what she had lost, herself.  Seeking direction and purpose in a world that had shifted so dramatically for her that she couldn’t find her equilibrium.

Cheryl Strayed is an amazing woman who suffered immeasurable losses in her life.  Losing her mother at such a young age, then having her family fall apart and scatter in the aftermath.  And then the final tipping point; the failure of her marriage led her to a dark and impossible place.  A place she desperately wanted to get out of but couldn’t find her way.  Her rebellious wandering led her to sexual promiscuity and blatant drug use.  Her path to self-destruction was almost guaranteed, but then she saw a book about the Pacific Crest Trail and everything changed.

The decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, yes, was incredibly impulsive.  She was ill-prepared and frankly she had no clue what she was doing.  She could easily have died.  But the amazing thing is that she didn’t.  She met some amazing people along the way and their helpfulness and honesty would help make her trek a success.  Would I advise anyone of doing this, absolutely not, but the fact that she did it and lived to tell the amazing tale makes for an equally amazing memoir.

I cringe when I hear people compare this book to Eat, Pray, Love because Cheryl Strayed’s journey is nothing like the journey of Elizabeth Gilbert.  Unlike Gilbert, Strayed makes her journey on pennies.  This was not a cushy journey to find herself.  This was actual work.  She ate almost nothing, she suffered through extreme weather changes as well as elevation changes.  And the pure physical endurance required for her journey is enough to make anyone cringe.  She went without the modern conveniences of life for months and all while hauling around a gargantuan sized backpack that amazed and shocked everyone she met.

The backpack was so big, it becomes of a character in and of itself.  It’s hysterical and terrifying in the same breath.  But it’s there with her through the entire journey.  Like it or not, it was her constant companion throughout her journey.  I absolutely loved the backpack.

Overall, this was a great book.  Who doesn’t love a story about a lost soul who finds themselves in the most unexpected of places?  They say that life is darkest just before the dawn.  After reading this book I believe that to be true.  Just when you think that Ms. Strayed has made the biggest mistake of her life, there is a shift in the world and everything seems to come into focus.  It’s a truly inspiring tale of discovering yourself and doing what is necessary to find it.  I highly recommend this book to everyone.

P.S. I should mention this book was an Oprah Book Club selection, and Indies Choice Book Award for Adult Nonfiction in 2013 and a Goodreads Choice for Best Memoir & Autobiography in 2012.  And finally, it was most recently adapted into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon.  (I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t comment on how it compares but my advice is to always read the book first.)

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