I received this book from my boyfriend's mother who told me she couldn't get through it, but thought I should give it a try. By the time I had finished, I knew I had experienced something amazing. That seems to be a good summary of people's reactions to the book. You either love it or hate it.
I for one think this is a very well-written memoir. Strayed is a likeable character with a knack for mixing humor, drama, suspense, and adventure.
After reading some negative reviews, here are a few warnings that may indicate that you might not enjoy this book:
1. It's a memoir so she talks about herself. A lot of reviews call Strayed self indulgent and whiny. But in my opinion, she got her memoir published and made into a movie; she's obviously doing something right. If you do not like memoirs that center around the person writing the memoirs, then (a) you probably don't really like memoirs and (b) you probably shouldn't read this because you don't like memoirs.
2. She is a human female who has sex. She has sex before the PCT, she has sex during the PCT, and she has sex after the PCT. Some reviewers seem to take offense with this fact. But from the text it seems that Strayed had a healthy view of sex. Her descriptions are not over-the-top pornographic or even that frequent really, but if you are offended by women having sex, beware (and also you probably should spend your time letting the fact sink in that it's perfectly normal and acceptable for women to be sexual beings). I think it takes guts to come all out in a memoir and that Strayed does not deserve the judgment that she received.
3. Strayed decides to hike the PCT with no knowledge of backpacking and sometimes gets into bad situations. Again, she was brave enough to lay out her mistakes for the reader, we don't have to be so quick to judge. Now, yes, I admit, her lack of planning could have put her in danger. But Strayed expresses herself as a powerful woman and in this book she does not let barriers come between her and her goal. She doesn't decide not to hike the PCT just because she is a woman and doesn't think she should go alone. She doesn't let her lack of money get in her way. Throughout the memoir, Strayed proves her resourcefulness and resilience by not letting anything stand in her way. I think that in itself is a very powerful message.
So yes, there are people who won't like this book for whatever reason. I found Strayed to be a powerful feminist who didn't let people tell her she shouldn't go out at night simply because she is a woman. While she gets help along the way, Strayed still accomplishes a lot all by herself.
This is an interesting read that, while long, makes you a little bit sad when the journey is over.