The book of the month for the PBF Book Club was Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It’s time to discuss this vivid memoir!

wild cheryl strayed

Brief Summary

Wild is a memoir about Cheryl Strayed’s journey on the Pacific Crest Trail. Following her mother’s death and the fallout of her marriage, Strayed walked more than 1,000 miles of the trail by herself at the age of 26, and documents the experience in vivid detail.

My Review

If I could describe Cheryl Strayed in one word it would be conflicted. When I first started reading Wild, I would’ve selected the word brave.

You have to be brave to carry a monstrous pack on your back and hike into the woods for days and days on end alone. You have to be brave to continue hiking after encountering a long horn bull, a bear and a handful of rattlesnakes. You have to be brave to hitchhike with strangers. Or you have to feel like you have nothing to lose.

Memoirs are usually pretty hit or miss for me. I rarely find a memoir that is a real “page turner” and, while I wouldn’t consider Wild extremely riveting, it held my attention. I had a hard time identifying with Cheryl Strayed, and found her decisions confusing at times, though I felt for her since her life was obviously filled with a lot of pain.

Her descriptions of the wilderness painted a beautiful picture. When she was overcome by the heat and the weight of her backpack, I felt it, too. When she was nervous about hopping into a car with strangers, I felt butterflies in my stomach. Strayed captured her journey in a way that made me feel like I was there.

During the first half of the book, I found myself hanging onto the hope that as I continued to read Wild, Cheryl would work through her emotions and the issues she was facing in her life. She wanted to change and I wanted her to change. As I kept reading, I found myself admiring Cheryl for going so far out of her comfort zone in an effort to make a serious change in her life. I admired her for being self aware enough to know that a change was necessary.

Some of my favorite parts of Cheryl’s journey occurred when she met new people on the trail. Learning more about the other hikers and the people who set out to accomplish something so difficult and challenging intrigued me and captivated me.

Wild was different than any other book I’ve read and one that made me look inside myself as I joined Cheryl on her tremendous hike. I’m not sure I’d highly recommend it, but for those who may be going through an emotional or complicated time and feel like a change might be necessary, reading Wild might just motivate you to do something, believe in yourself and step out of your comfort zone.

Blogger Link Up

You can find additional reviews of Wild on the following blogs:

Discussion Questions

  • Did you find Cheryl likeable? Why or why not?
  • What stories within Wild did you most enjoy? Cheryl’s interactions with fellow hikers? The stories from her past? The time she spent alone? 


  1. says

    I think we had similar feelings on the book. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I just couldn’t relate to her all that much and I wished the book had more action. I didn’t find her very likable. I mean, she was brave doing the hike, but she made some bad choices in her past and I didn’t have too much sympathy for her. I liked the stories from her past least and probably her interactions with other hikers most. I’m glad I read the book, but I wouldn’t highly recommend it either.


  2. says

    I agree with a lot of your review – I was riveted by the fact that her writing allowed me to really feel like I was there with her! I felt what she felt! And I also agree that she wasn’t necessarily brave, she just felt like she had little to lose. I really enjoyed this book and it’s inspired me to hike a mountain while I’m in CO in a couple weeks!


  3. says

    I was expecting the book to captivate me a bit more than it did. I liked it, but I can’t say that I LOVED it. The part of the book that stuck with me the most was the flashback to when she and her brother had to shoot her mother’s horse to put it out of its misery. I always get emotional when it comes to animals!


  4. jenn910 says

    I think Cheryl’s journey was a very specific one that many may not identify with. I traveled a very similar journey and absolutely found myself riveted throughout the book. While many may not have understood her “stupid decisions,” I found myself nodding my head and crying throughout those chapters. I lost my mother under very similar circumstances at a very similar age as Cheryl. I understand how it can rock your world and shake your sense of self to the very core. I also understand how it can lead to a series of stupid decisions that others who have not experienced that sense of loss wouldn’t understand. I think your point that she had nothing to lose is spot on. There was definitely an element of fearlessness there, but I think that anyone who has experienced a profound loss can identify with that feeling that all other imagined fears don’t seem as real anymore.


  5. Hannah says

    I absolutely LOVED Wild. I’ve faced a similar situation in addiction, and while I haven’t lost either of my parents, I felt that I could identify with Strayed. I agree that it’s easier to connect with the story when you’ve been through something similar. She’s actually going to be in Asheville soon for a signing just in case anyone who loved the book didn’t know and would want to go.


  6. Alison says

    3.5 out of 5 stars. While this is not a book I would typically choose to read on my own, I’m glad that I read this raw, honest memoir. Cheryl describes her experiences on the trail in a way that made me feel as if I were walking alongside her, while weaving in flashbacks about her broken past and reflecting on her life. I found myself amazed by Cheryl’s courage, persistence, and determination; this is one strong woman who refuses to give up! While this book was slow at times and nothing extremely exciting happened, it kept me interested and I was intrigued by the author’s character. Throughout the book, I watched her grow from an ill-prepared, inexperienced hiker to the “Queen of the PCT” with a renewed outlook and deeper understanding of herself. This book demonstrates the incredible strength of the human body and spirit. It also made me want to push myself outside of my comfort zone.


  7. Alison says

    Discussion Questions:

    Did you find Cheryl likeable? Why or why not?
    I found Cheryl to be a likeable character, but I was frustrated with her at times. Her sheer stupidity and lack of experience bothered me, especially when she put herself in danger by running out of water, hitchhiking with strangers, and running out of money for food. I also had hoped that she would find God during this trip, but she only seemed to draw deeper within herself. With that being said, I found myself intrigued by her courage and stamina and admired her honest reflections about her past. I was cheering her on to finish the PCT by the end.

    What stories within Wild did you most enjoy? Cheryl’s interactions with fellow hikers? The stories from her past? The time she spent alone?

    I enjoyed reading about her daily experiences of hiking on trail: the extreme temperatures, interesting people she encountered, and wild animals. I also really liked the sections when she reflected on her past and shared intimate details of her life.


  8. says

    I agree with a lot of what you said about the book. I liked Cheryl and admired her for what she did but did find it hard to identify with her. She had gone through so many things that are foreign to me, despite the little age difference between my age now and the age she was when she started her journey. I also thought she may go through a greater transformation and found the ending a little trite. Overall her courage and bravery through the whole thing was inspiring.


  9. says

    Love your review, Julie! I definitely did not find Cheryl likable until the very end of the book. By then it seemed she had really matured and found herself again. I most enjoyed her day-to-day on the trail. The small obstacles she encountered that actually determined her survival were my favorite. I thought she really handled the trail like a champ, and she was actually most easy to identify with during her hikes.

    Thanks for linking up!


  10. Jacki says

    I did like the book because she did a good job at writing. She had personal stories, history, and very descriptive writing. Although I can’t really identify with her, I admire the fact that she wrote so well and from the last of the book sounds like she straightened out her life. Let’s face it, that poor girl had a rough start and not alot of admirable people in her life.

    The boots and the feet are the part that stick with me the most. 6 out of 10 toe nails falling off sound very painful. Also, though the description was short, I’m not sure I could handle not having a “flush toilet” and almost as bad…not showering for weeks? I often shower twice a day!


  11. says

    Thanks for you review on this one. I ended up not doing this book club because I had read an excerpt from a magazine and just didn’t “like it.” I think I would have had a hard time with this book but I love that you also found some good in it!


  12. Courtney says

    If you want a page turner, read Lone Survivor. It is a true story about a Navy SEAL who’s mission went horribly wrong. I stayed up until 5 in the morning because I COULD NOT put it down….ESPECIALLY the second half. Everyone I know who has read it has agreed. I bet Ryan would even like it!


      • Sarah says

        I LOVE that book! Other page turners are definitely Seal Team SIx (amazing on audiobook!) And Fearless: the story of Adam Brown. I just finished this book yesterday and stayed up reading it. Now my mom is reading (she’s a tough critic) and is loving it. Great for guys too since my dad is the one who gave it to me!


  13. Terri says

    •Did you find Cheryl likeable? Why or why not?
    No. I did not find Cheryl all that likeable. She seemed very selfish to me. I felt she was burning bridges with the people in her life because she saw no way to ‘find herself’ with her current relationships. I was heartbroken that she still loved her husband but could no longer be with him. However, I’m grateful he didn’t have to stick it out with someone who clearly did not wish to fight for what they had. It appears she took no one else’s feelings into consideration when she was risking her life by hitchhiking and getting drunk with strangers.
    I also felt that she knew that there were items in her life that she knew were poisonous but she refused to do anything about it in her ‘normal’ life. I feared that she would go through this drastic trip in an attempt to change only to go back to the poisonous activities she had been participating in before the trip. The true triumph came at the end when she spoke about things that happened after she got off the trail. We don’t know what happened directly after she left Cascade Locks. We know only that she came to terms with the hand she had been dealt and somehow overcame her circumstances.
    •What stories within Wild did you most enjoy? Cheryl’s interactions with fellow hikers? The stories from her past? The time she spent alone.
    At first, I enjoyed all the stories about her mom. Her mom sounded like a great free spirit and someone who would be a pleasure to know. I also liked reading about their relationship. At one point, Cheryl gets upset because her mother never showed her God. At first, this was a bit frustrating for me. I didn’t understand why she was mad at her mom but Cheryl herself didn’t go searching. I feel that this may have been where her selfishness stems from.
    I felt the best stories came from her surroundings. Like when she would take the time to paint a picture. I don’t feel this happened as often as it should have. She was in the most beautiful and dramatically changing area in the U.S. I wish she had shared more about what she saw and been more affected by her surroundings rather than her circumstances.


  14. says

    I didnt mean to actually join the book club this month but ended up picking this as my next novel to read anyways, how funny 🙂

    I did enjoy the book…although I felt like there was going to be more about her working through her issues mentally while on the hike. I teared up at a lot of moments..especially in the beginning when she was talking about her moms battle and death…I was able to relate with her a little in ways that although i’ve never hiked like she has before..running has been something that has helped me on my journey through life significantly…I guess maybe thats why I was expecting more of a revelation in her head while she was on her journey…either way, I did enjoy the novel. I totally agree with her being very conflicted. I enjoyed her descriptions of the nature around her. Very interesting novel!


    • says

      I really like your thoughts. You are very transparent with your ideas on fear. I have always had an issue with fear, fearing just about everything possible. It’s like some sort of disease. I thank God for Jesus because he has really been showing me his peace and his love and it has really been helping overcome some of my fears. One day at a time. I just had to respond to your comment!


  15. says

    I just watched her on Oprah (I think it was Soul Series) and listening to her talk about that time in her life was very interesting. I haven’t read the book but I will say I think I would feel the same way about connecting with her. Even in the interview I didn’t feel like anything she was saying was something I could connect too. The only thing that really stuck with me was what she said about accomplishing goals. I don’t remember her exact words but it was similar to not letting fear get in the way of doing something you want to do because once it does you’ll never accomplish what you want. She said it’s our fears that hold us back and that when we face them we always come out better.
    That stuck with me because there is a lot of things I don’t do because of fear. I always over think EVERYTHING and second guess all my decisions. Now I try to pay more attention to the negative fearful thoughts and let them go so I will be more willing to try new things.
    Great review of the book tho! Who knows maybe I will still pick it up and read it…one day.


  16. Katie A says

    I admire Cheryl so much for her honesty in this memoir. Some of the things she revealed about herself were definitely not flattering, but it was a real (and perhaps common?) reaction to having your mother taken from you at such a young age – not to mention a bad relationship with her father, her family more or less falling apart after her mother’s death, and what I would call an underprivileged childhood. While I can’t necessarily relate to her for many reasons, I am in awe of the fact that she recognized that her life was heading in a direction she didn’t like and made a plan to try to set herself on the right path again.

    I agree with you – I loved when she met other people on the trail. I also loved the “flashbacks” to her life before the PCT. I was heartbroken reading about her mother’s last days (her brother not getting to see her one last time alive!), the demise of her marriage to Paul, and the series of unhealthy “relationships” with men and drugs. The sheer fact that she put it all out there for the world’s judgment makes it impossible for me to actually judge her!


  17. Alabal says

    I LOVED this book. I actually read it before it was chosen as the month’s book club pick, and voted for it to be chosen because I adored it so much. While my personal experiences are far from Cheryl’s pre-hike, I absolutely related to her emotionally. In my opinion she is one badass chick. Thru-hiking the PCT, AT or CDT is not to be taken lightly and the fact that she set out completely unprepared AND finished, is an amazing feat. I’m surprised by people’s responses that they couldn’t relate to her. It’s not about also losing a loved one, battling drug addiction, or coping with a failed marriage. It’s about who we are at the core and how we face life’s complications. Is there any one of us who hasn’t, at some point, thought that there could be MORE out there for us? Brutal honesty makes a good memoir, and Cheryl laid ALL of her cards out from page one. She has truly inspired me. I highly recommend this book.


  18. Margaret says

    I enjoyed the book when I read it. I foudn her descriptions excellent. Unfortunately, as I’ve talked to people about the book and tried to describe it, I realized what incredibly poor planning she did for the trip, how totally unprepared she was even though she had everything under the sun she could possibly need (or so it seemed), what contuning reckless behavior she used on the trip (equally as dangerous though different than her before the trip behavior), and how incredibly lucky she was. She survived that trip mostly by luck. It is great that the end result was a positve life, but I don’t think she’s somebody I’d want to hear at a motivational seminar.


  19. Reeca says

    When I finished this book I looked at the reviews on goodreads. I was a
    Little surprised at the pele who hated the book. And then I realized, they missed the point. The bad reviews were about her whining about her mothers death and about her unpreparedness. However, I have lost a dear parent and I understand how LOST Cheryl is. I also understand her need for accomplishment. Yes, she was unprepared and yes, she was lost. But, this experience helped her to grow and be the tough person she turned out to be. I think a key factor in part of the book was that she was determined to finish the trail the same way she started it ALONE!! She learned not to depend on anyone but herself. She learned that you can love someone,but it is YOU that you have to be true to and depend on because everyone disappoints and everyone dies. I thought this was a great book with a wonderful message if you knew where to look and could get past the “weird” parts. The parts where she was struggling to BE!!


  20. says

    I had a hard time enjoying the book because my job requires me to do a lot of outdoor expeditions (big pack, lost toenails, the whole shebang), and I have been in enough situations where inefficiency would have been life threatening that I had a hard time getting the kind of comic relief she seemed to intend by describing how woefully underprepared she was. It kind of made my skin crawl, actually, but I guess that’s a sign that I need to lighten up.

    I thought the contrast of that subtly wry, self-deprecating depiction of the trek with the serious talk about her issues and past traumatic experiences created an interesting juxtaposition. I agree with you that I wouldn’t *highly* recommend this book to anyone, but it definitely did spur me to add “hike the California portion of the PCT” to my Bucket List.


  21. Cicerone says

    I enjoyed the book and found myself reading it for an insight into a contemporary young adult and how she dealt with life. I just finished the book and I largely agree with the review. Especially where it says “…I was expecting more of a revelation…” Cheryl, like many of us as young adults, were wanderers without a firm destination in life. Perhaps a product of naive or bad parenting… love is not enough.

    The message of the book, if it seems less than profound, seems insufficient. Merely finishing a large and difficult journey just to prove to yourself you can do it is just the beginning of valuable life lessons. But, at times people need to do whatever it takes as best they can to plod ahead.

    The absence of any spiritual context, with the exception of a few Native American words, leaves the story somewhat two dimensional. I suppose agnostics and atheists might feel more satisfied with the level of “found” in the subtitle context.

    All-in-all a bold journey, nevertheless.


  22. Helen says

    I’m reading this for the second time. The first time I was shocked, repulsed, in awe of, and thoroughly interested in Cheryl and her journey. I ripped through the book. Now I’m going slower, trying to absorb it more. I have done backpacking. I have gone on journeys “alone” though not as arduous or as dangerous as hers.I also lost my mother way too young. I remember being completely lost after she died. I didn’t have sex with strangers or shoot heroin, but I did wail, not eat right for months and lost a lot of weight, stay in bed when I should have been productive, forget where I was and what I was doing sometimes. I don’t think I was very like able right after my mom died either. Likeable is one more way the male culture puts women in their place. Who cares whether she was Likeable or not? She surely didn’t. She was trying to survive, way down on the Maaslow’s hierarchy from Likeable. Her will and her intelligence eventually got her through that dark time. And, yes, on trails, people are nice to each other. I always find it that way. We’re a small band of humans in a big natural world, and it feels right to be a tribe, even if for only a few days at a time.


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