At age 22, Cheryl Strayed lost her mother to lung cancer, only seven weeks after her initial diagnosis. This devastating loss significantly impacted Strayed emotionally, and her past demons made their way into the present. From the sexual abuse she endured as a child to the eating disorder that overtook her as a teenager, Strayed could no longer repress these memories from her personal history.
After her mother’s death, Strayed started abusing heroin and eventually separated from her husband. However, four years later at age 26, she decided that this life of sorrow and depression was one she refused to lead. She quit her job as a waitress, sold her belongings, and set out to solo-trek the Pacific Crest Trail.
Published in 2012, Wild is Cheryl Strayed’s memoir that details this 1,100 mile hike and her journey of emotional redemption. This hike was pivotal in Strayed’s life as it “forced [her] to put one foot in front of the other at a time when emotionally [she] didn't think [she] could do that.” This trek allowed her to heal from the past that threatened her mental sanity.
Wild intertwines the author’s personal struggles with the physical challenges she encounters on her hike. Strayed writes of her experiences genuinely, including every gut-wrenching, explicit detail. Melanie Rehak of Slate states that Wild is “crammed...with passages of vicious discomfort” and thus acts as the antithesis of other memoirs such as Eat, Pray, Love, a more light-hearted read about self-discovery.
Wild was an immediate success as it broke No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list and was the first pick for Oprah Winfrey’s revived book club. In 2014, Wild was adapted into a film of the same name, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and starring Reese Witherspoon. It was ultimately nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role.