Book Review of Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild
Goodreads Rating: 4.00
Publisher:
Published: 3/20/2012
Page Count: 315
Book URL: GoodReads.com
From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail…
3.8Overall Score
  • Covered Subject
    4.0
  • Cover Art
    4.0
  • Impact
    3.5
  • Organization
    4.0
  • Pacing
    3.0
  • Writing
    4.0

Personally Purchased Affiliate Link

Quick Review

  • The story follows our main character, Cheryl Strayed, throughout as expected with a memoir.
  • Set on the Pacific Cost Trail, which is a scenic hiking trail spanning from the bottom of California to the top of Washington in the United States.
  • I did not have too many strong emotional reactions to this story throughout, which I was surprised by as I really enjoyed and connected to the movie. I think if I had read the book before watching the movie I would feel more strongly.
  • I feel that the story has a slow pace, especially the third part, and I was waiting for the next non-climatic event after event to happen. However I still found the writing to be really good, it’s just that I wasn’t as interested or engaged as I had expected to be.
  • Only Cheryl, the main character, is a whole and fully developed character. All other’s lack a lot of dimension, but that is because it is not their story or the kind of story to develop other characters. For example, her ex-husband Paul is not described in any detail and remains a two-dimensional character on the page.

If I had to describe this book in two words: adventurous and interesting.

**SERIOUS SPOILERS** Click black text to reveal spoilers.

**Trigger and Content Warnings**

This book discusses sensitive subjects that some readers may find triggering. Please take care of yourself. Triggers and content warnings in this story include but are not limited to:

  • Abuse
  • Alcohol
  • Anger
  • Animals (snakes, bear, bull, bugs, etc.)
  • Animal death
  • Blood and Gore (human and animal)
  • Death (parent, friend and animal)
  • Drug use and abuse (alcohol, heroin, marijuana, root drug)
  • Homelessness
  • Hospitals
  • Illness
  • Medical
  • Occult (brief mentions of Bigfoot)
  • Pregnancy (abortion)
  • Relationship Issues
  • Sex
  • Stalking
  • Suicide
  • Toxic Relationships
  • Trauma
  • Violence

Yeahhh…there’s a lot in this book. Read more about Trigger and Content Warnings.

In Depth Review

This book follows Cheryl Strayed, our main character who makes no apologies about being a flawed human being but who is also introspective about her failings at the same time. Throughout her trek along the scenic and danger wrought Pacific Coast Trail, Cheryl makes an attempt to process and grieve for her mother’s death, the other losses in her life, and to reconnect with herself. The start of the book describes how hard it is for her to process her mother’s death and how deep this takes her down a dark path. Given how close she was to her mother, which I can personally never image, I think this would make sense? It takes about halfway through the book, and her hike, for Cheryl to really start mentally digging deep into the true reasons she went out into the wild in the first place. She acknowledges this in Part 4, “Wild”. This rings really true to me, as I also will avoid things at first, even when I’ve set a clear intention to do just the opposite.

Fox Metaphor

I believe that the fox is a metaphor for finding and losing her mother in life and on the trail. She relates the fox and her mother’s horse, Lady, to each other in the story herself, describing them both as having a chestnut red coat. She recalls how hard her mother had worked to procure the horse and how Lady had been such a central piece of her mother’s life. Lady was the reason her mother became strong and allowed her to walk away from Cheryl’s abusive father, and to keep going. Horses were like her mother’s religion. However I was confused when she described being afraid of the fox that she met on the trail, but then called it “mom”? I enjoyed the very real, flawed character of her stepfather Eddie who just doesn’t do the right things in the end. At first, I felt really happy for her and her brother because at first he was a good role model, and he taught her about the outdoors. I enjoyed this part of the book that described her being brought up in the outdoors (and also camping with Paul in her marriage). I do not think was a part of the movie, but it makes everything make much more sense. But in the end Eddie abandons Cheryl’s family and doesn’t care for Lady as he promises to, leaving her sickly, old, and past the point when she should have been humanely euthanized. This leads to a horrific and heart wrenching scene where her and her brother have to shoot the horse themselves because of financial difficulties.

Hardships and Kindness

During her hike Cheryl faces so many setbacks it’s a wonder that she ever really get’s to the end:

  • Having to take rides that take her miles back that she’d already hiked, bypasses, and paths gone wrong.
  • Oscillating weather including record snowfalls and temperatures in the 100s.
  • So many rattlesnakes, bears, a bull, ants, mountain lion tracks and even a frog attack.
  • People who threaten to call the police on her.
  • Battered feet and the loss of most of her toe nails (mostly due to poorly fitting boots but at one point she also pulls them off herself!).
  • Looses her poorly fitting boots.
  • Thinking about her family including her ex-husband Paul, her brother, her step-father Eddie, her mother and her mother’s horse, Lady.
  • Processing how dysfunctionally her family handled her mother’s death and the heart breaking circumstances surrounding it.
  • Dealing with the guilt of cheating on her husband (which is actually very common thing to happen during grief).
  • Running out of water, a clogged filter, and having her water freeze.
  • Sketchy men.
  • An active mine.
  • Misplaced money.
  • Rain soaked supplies.
  • Suffering, just a lot of suffering.
Despite these hardships, she also encounters a lot of kindness and receives many favors from fun and interesting characters. Many of these strangers become new friends, who help her out with showers, rides, meals, and so much more. One character she meets that seems particularly significant is Doug, a hiker who gives her a black feather that is referred to many times throughout the story. She also seems to have a lot of support from friends, receiving many letters and phone calls along her journey. Even REI, an outdoor company, sends her new boots at one point, free of charge (they really are a helpful company). I particularly enjoyed a scene when Cheryl drinks Hawaiian screwdrivers with a new group one night. She smokes a joint near the end of the night with a new friend named Paco. He asks her if she is on a “spirit walk”, then gives her a Bob Marley t-shirt which he says is “sacred”. At one point she accidentally leaves the shirt behind, but in the movie they show her wearing it in the end.

Besides a few differences like this and all the details the movie couldn’t possibly include, I found the movie very true to the book overall.

Ending the Journey

Toward the end of her journey, near Ashland, Cheryl learns that Jerry Garcia had died, reminding her how out of touch with humanity she’d been for some time now. This is where her final resupply box is and where she meets a new love interest Jonathan. They enjoy some time together dancing, kissing and making love. It’s then that she realizes that she needs to really forgive herself for all the things that she’s done wrong so that she can move forward. That she needs to get back to her hike and finish it. In the end she hikes over 1100 miles and ends up with $0.20 to her name. But she knows how far she’s come throughout the journey and how much her mind has shifted. The story ends on a positive note of her reminiscing on the future (it makes sense when you read it).

Gilmore Girls and Wild Tie-In

I was a SUPER FREAK for Gilmore Girls back when it was on, and watched it RELIGIOUSLY. I could NOT be interrupted. I think a lot of book lovers really loved this show, and I was no exception. I actually rewatched the series in its entirety in anticipation for the reboot, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.

In the Fall episode Lorelai goes “wild” and follows in the footsteps of Cheryl Strayed and sets off to go camping, full monster pack in tow. However in true Lorelai fashion, she doesn’t actually get any hiking done but does have her “ah-ha” moment. The way this episode portrays the thru-hiker is fricken’ hilarious, but obviously just a character. I really enjoyed this mini-series reboot, it had all the things to love about the Gilmore Girls – the witty banter, the characters, continued plot lines, and new twists. The only significant person missing of course was Edward Hermann, RIP.

SUPER NOTE: STOP EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW!! I just learned in researching for this article that they thought about A FREAKIN’ SEASON 2 of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. Are you freakin’ kidding me?! All of the excite if that actually happens. Rory pregnant? Ugh.

Reoccurring Themes

In this book I actually noticed a few reoccurring themes (yay me!) that I felt were significant to the plot and to Cheryl’s character development:

  • Cheryl wants to deal with her problems and “find herself” while also simultaneously trying to slip away from life or escape it, at least temporarily.
  • Another reoccurring theme I noticed is that the people Cheryl meets often comment on how remarkable it is that she’s hiking the PCT alone. However people and woman do it alone every year. In fact, according to my research one third to half of all hikers on the PCT are female through the years. Maybe it was less common in 1995 (statistics didn’t go that far back for gender)?
  • Cheryl realized that on her travels she encountered almost exclusively kind and giving people (besides those two men) and that the world was filled with good people. As she comes to this realization, as if on cue a man offers her and her friends a cabin for the night to stay and dry out in. I don’t think that everyone has this kind of experience.
  • Cheryl explores her relationship with men throughout this story and near the end finds that she can be complete within herself.
  • Throughout the books Cheryl also explores her relationship with her mother and her breakup with her husband Paul, experiencing a wide range of feelings, emotions and thoughts. I feel that these parts of the book are the most beautifully written, heart-felt and wrenching, especially about her mother. But it’s not until the end of the story that she really dives in deep and fully realizes all that has passed and all that it meant to her.

eBook Review

The beginning of the book has a map of the Pacific Coast Trail, dedication, an author’s note, and a prologue. The book is sectioned into five parts and nineteen chapters. There are no illustrations besides the map.

In the eBook version that I have and read along side the audiobook there are some extra parts at the end (I’m not sure if these are in the physical copy of the book or not). The first section is “Books Burned on the PCT” followed by the section “Wild By Cheryl Strayed Reading Group Guide”. These are notes and questions that can be used for discussion in book clubs. I think this part is very interesting and illuminating – for example Cheryl seems to candidly address if her lack of shame is a flaw or a strength by posing it as a question. The back of the book also has your standard acknowledgements, suggested reading, about the author, and more by this author sections.

Audiobook Review

  • The audiobook version of Wild is narrated by Bernadette Dunne, who from my research appears to mainly be an audiobook narrator.
  • I found Bernadette’s narration soothing and relaxing. She reads with an American accent.
  • There is no true voicing of characters but it’s easy to tell when someone else is talking.
  • I found the pace of the reading a bit slow.
  • Overall I enjoyed the narration and it still sounded good at higher speeds.
  • 13:02:36 in length.

NOTE: I borrowed the audiobook edition from my local library and own an eBook copy.

Favorite Quotes

“Every now and then I could see myself—truly see myself—and a sentence would come to me, thundering like a god into my head, and as I saw myself then in front of that tarnished mirror what came was the woman with the hole in her heart. That was me. That was why I’d longed for a companion the night before. That was why I was here, naked in a motel, with this preposterous idea of hiking alone for three months on the PCT.”
Cheryl Strayed

“This is not me. This is not the way I am. Stop it. No more. But in the afternoons I’d return with a wad of cash to buy another bit of heroin and I’d think: Yes. I get to do this. I get to waste my life. I get to be junk.”
Cheryl Strayed
“I was an experimentalist, I told her. An artist. The kind of woman who said yes instead of no.”
Cheryl Strayed
“I’d thought I’d weep tears of cathartic sorrow and restorative joy each day of my journey. Instead, I only moaned, and not because my heart ached. It was because my feet did and my back did and so did the still-open wounds all around my hips.”
Cheryl Strayed
“I was amazed that what I needed to survive could be carried on my back. And, most surprising of all, that I could carry it. That I could bear the unbearable. These realizations about my physical, material life couldn’t help but spill over into the emotional and spiritual realm. That my complicated life could be made so simple was astounding”
Cheryl Strayed
“Being one of the guys meant I could not go on being the woman I’d become expert at being among men.”
Cheryl Strayed
“Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was.”
Cheryl Strayed
“I had problems a therapist couldn’t solve; grief that no man in a room could ameliorate.”
Cheryl Strayed
“I was here. I felt it in a way I hadn’t in ages: the me inside of me, occupying my spot in the fathomless Milky Way.”
Cheryl Strayed
“Every time you do heroin it’s like you’re playing Russian roulette. You’re putting a gun to your head and pulling the trigger. You don’t know which time the bullet’s going to be in the chamber.”
Cheryl Strayed
“The trigger I’d pulled in stepping into the snow made me more alive to my senses than ever. Uncertain as I was as I pushed forward, I felt right in my pushing, as if the effort itself meant something. That perhaps being amidst the undesecrated beauty of the wilderness meant I too could be undesecrated, regardless of what I’d lost or what had been taken from me, regardless of the regrettable things I’d done to others or myself or the regrettable things that had been done to me. Of all the things I’d been skeptical about, I didn’t feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me.”
Cheryl Strayed
“There’s always a sunrise and always a sunset and it’s up to you to choose to be there for it,’ said my mother. ‘Put yourself in the way of beauty.”
Cheryl Strayed
“It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I’d done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was, like all those lines from The Dream of a Common Language that had run through my nights and days. To believe that I didn’t need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life—like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.
How wild it was, to let it be.”
Cheryl Strayed

Musical Suggestions

I enjoyed this book while listening to the playlist “Travel Instrumentals – Uplifting” on Spotify by Joshua Naranjo.

Learn More About Wild

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