When Cheryl Strayed was twenty-six years old, she decided to hike 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. She hoped that the trip would help her come to terms with her mother’s death and the disintegration of her family.
I’m a little surprised by the reviews of this memoir on Goodreads. Some people seem to really, really hate the author. Memoirs are difficult to review because it’s nearly impossible to separate the author/narrator/main character from the book, but I’m going to try. I’m not comfortable judging a human and the decisions she made twenty-something years ago. The author writes about her life honestly in this book. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything. She doesn’t pretend to be perfect. It is hard for the reader to feel sympathy for her at times, but that didn’t bother me while I was reading. I think it took a lot of bravery to tell this story.
Now, for the book. I enjoyed it immensely. I’m very interested in backpacking, so I’m probably preprogramed to like these kinds of books, but there is a lot of content in this story that will appeal to non-backpackers. The majority of the plot focuses on the Pacific Crest Trail, but Cheryl doesn’t spend all of her time hiking. She occasionally gets off the trail and meets interesting people. There are also flashbacks to her childhood and her mother’s death from cancer.
I have read a few other books about hiking. The descriptions can sometimes feel very repetitive: “There’s a tree, there’s another tree, there’s a lake, there’s another tree.” This book doesn’t feel repetitive at all. There’s enough description that I can picture the scenes, but there isn’t so much that it bogs down the story. The plot moves quickly, and I was never bored.
The writing isn’t phenomenal, but it’s powerful enough that I was completely engaged in the story. I was rooting for Cheryl. I wanted her to reach the end of the trail, and I wanted her to be a better, happier person when she got there.
The only thing that really bothers me about this book is the horse-euthanasia scene. I’m not overly sensitive to that type of thing, but the scene feels out-of-place. The book is fairly upbeat right before that scene, and it goes back to being upbeat immediately after. It feels like a super-graphic death scene just comes out of nowhere. After the scene ended, I actually stopped reading and thought, What the hell was that? I was so blindsided that it took me a while to get back into the story.
I read memoirs because I want a small glimpse into someone else’s life. This book gave me exactly what I wanted. The author/narrator does make some controversial decisions in her life, but the book is still worth reading. I enjoyed it.