Sunny's bookshelf
Sunny's bookshelf photo by Judy Solomon

Online book reviews since 2011, the very best in reviewing – connecting good readers with equally good writers


Sign up to receive our latest reviews by email

Wild, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, a memoir of her 1995 solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, has been wildly popular. A New York Times #1 Bestseller, a first selection for Oprah Winfrey’s 2.0 Book Club, and with sales in the millions, Wild received wildly enthusiastic reviews. “A spectacular book . . . Gripping . . . A breathtaking adventure tale and a profound meditation on the nature of grief and survival . . . A literary and human triumph,” wrote one reviewer. “Stunning . . . An incredible journey, both inward and outward,” wrote another. “A beautifully made, utterly realized book,” wrote a third. A movie of Strayed’s trek, filmed in Oregon and starring Reese Witherspoon, is scheduled for release sometime in 2014. Truly, Wild is a publishing phenomenon matched by few contemporary books.

Readers, reviewers, everyone loves Wild. Everyone; except for me. In the next couple of paragraphs, I’m going to commit a cardinal sin. Those of us who regularly review other people’s manuscripts and books must always concentrate on the book in hand, not the one lurking in the reviewer’s imagination. It is a mistake for a reviewer to critique the book she wishes an author had written. I should evaluate the pages before me, not some fantasy version. Wild is a memoir, a sojourn of one woman’s path from despair to fulfillment. As such, Wild is wildly successful, and most often is reviewed as a powerful memoir of self-awareness. But I can’t read it like that, and that’s the problem with this review.

When Cheryl Strayed headed north from Tehachapi in southern California, she was wildly unprepared. Never having backpacked a single night in her life, she knew only what she’d read in books. She had neither weighed her load nor packed it until the day her journey was to begin. She carried excess items—a camp chair, a foldable saw, four books, binoculars and a professional-sized camera. She forgot to calculate the weight of her water. Her boots fit improperly, blistering her heels and toes. She bought the wrong kind of fuel for her cook stove, rendering it immediately inoperable. Her pack was monstrously overloaded, and that was just the beginning.

Once underway, she learned for the first time that a record snow season had made the Sierra mountains nearly impassable. She hiked for a while, then left the trail and caught a bus to Reno. Hiking a bit farther, she bailed out again and again. When she reached the Columbia River, she stopped. Thus, she hiked the PCT without seeing any of its most spectacular scenery—no John Muir Trail, no Washington Cascades. Full disclosure here—these are the two sections of the PCT that I know best, so I really regretted their omission.

As a seasoned hiker who began backpacking when I was nine years old, this lackadaisical approach to the wilderness just drove me crazy! Besides, Wild’s central narrative focus has little to do with the trail. It’s all about Cheryl Strayed—her family history, her grief over her mother’s untimely death, her flirtation with heroin, her relationships with men. Once her trip is underway, she occasionally notices the terrain, especially when it’s difficult or when the view is spectacular, but she generally says more about the places where she breaks up her hike, picks up mail, and eats voraciously, than she does about the wilderness. She is much more centered on the men and women she meets along the way, and of course re-living her past.

Wild is a lively and thorough exploration of self and the wildness of self. The book is well-written and eminently readable. I see why it received so many accolades. But as a book about hiking or the out-of-doors, I found it wildly hollow. And thus, I’ve written a wildly inappropriate book review.  – Ann Ronald

Also available by Strayed: Tiny Beautiful Things; Torch.

Add your thoughts and comments...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share this Review

Related Reviews

Facing The Mountain

Facing The Mountain

    Daniel James Brown’s Facing the Mountain, A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II, is the rich telling of the plight faced

Read More »
Billy Blaster and the Robot Army from Outer Space

Billy Blaster

BILLY BLASTER AND THE ROBOT ARMY FROM OUTER SPACE – not necessarily a graphic novel only for the younger reader. No matter how old you

Read More »
The Little Sister

The Little Sister

The Little Sister – A first Philip Marlowe novel brings this reviewer into an enthusiastic appreciation of Raymond Chandler who makes (for me) the mystery

Read More »

About the Reviewer

Sign up for reviews by email

You’ll get email updates from Bookin’ with Sunny when we add a new review or blog post, and we never share your email with anyone else.

Shopping in-store Fun!

Support your local community’s economic growth by shopping for books at your independent bookstore in person, online at their website, or by phone.