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This is one of those books that feels really big even though the actual scope is only as wide as a single family, and in this case not even a very big family. It's the themes that make it feel sweeping, as well as the span of years it covers, following trails of heartbreak from one generation to the next.

The story begins in 1938 with plucky, naïve Eveline, who has moved into a cabin nestled deep in the Minnesota woods to be with her husband, German immigrant Emil. Although Eveline is a city girl, she proves her mettle with how quickly she adapts to her new hardscrabble country life. It's that inner toughness, that grit that leads her to stay on alone when Emil is called back to Germany to visit his dying father. She subsists just fine—chopping her own wood, caring for their young son Hux, even taking over Emil's taxidermy business to make money while he's away. However, despite Eveline's resourcefulness, there are some tragedies that can't be avoided, and one unwelcome visitor changes everything.

Eveline is forced to make an impossible choice, one that will reverberate through her family for generations to come. The story picks back up in 1954, 1961, and 1972, and each section reveals how the past continues to live in the characters' present. Redemption may not come in just one generation; it may not come at all. But the name of the place Emil chose to live all those years ago—Evergreen—is a symbol of the hope and promise the future holds, even after unimaginable pain and loss.

I loved Eveline, the calm and matter-of-fact way she takes care of business. She's one of the most memorable strong female characters I've read in a while. I was almost disappointed when the story moved on from her, although I came to love the entire cast: Eveline's wacky but loving friend Lulu, plainspoken and deeply honest Hux, and fragile, feral Naamah. Rasmussen captures perfectly the duality, the bittersweetness of their lives. Their joy (like all joy?) is inextricably entwined with their sorrows. 

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This is quite possibly the most needless recommendation I've ever written. Almost two years ago, Oprah Winfrey selected Wild as the first book in the new iteration of her book club, Oprah's Book Club 2.0. Thanks to Oprah's endorsement and the ensuing massive publicity, I'm pretty sure just about everyone who wants to read this book already has.

However, I just now got around to it, and while adding my teeny-weeny stamp of approval to a book with an Oprah sticker on it is admittedly redundant, I loved the book too much to keep quiet about it. 

It took me this long to pick it up because, I don't know, a hiking memoir? A book about being outside and walking for a long time? Without regular showers and stuff? Eh. Not really my thing, I thought. I've said before that I'm not outdoorsy. You've seen what I look like when I hike. I just wasn't sure this was the book for me.

But then it was selected by my own book club (no affiliation with Oprah's), and I decided I was game to try it. And—I love it when this happens—I was so happy to have my modest expectations exceeded. Exploded, really. It was like a big BANG and then just confetti, everywhere.

Cheryl Strayed, like many memoirists, has had a difficult life. Some of her problems were caused by others, but some, she readily admits, were totally self-inflicted. Her mother died suddenly of cancer when Strayed was in her early twenties. Her biological father had left years before, her stepfather drifted away into a new marriage and family, and her siblings were mostly unreachable, mired in their own lives. Strayed had married young and depicts her husband as kind and supportive, but her mother's death left her feeling cut off from him, adrift and alone.

Four years after her mother's death, Strayed quit her job and left Minnesota to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a path over 2,000 miles long that stretches parallel to the Pacific coast from Canada to Mexico. Her decision to hike the trail was basically a whim. She prepared in only the most cursory of ways. Her boots were too small, destroying her feet and causing her toenails to pop off one by one. Her pack was ridiculously heavy, more than half her body weight and filled with items she didn't need. She found herself completely humbled by the trail, unprepared but still plodding ahead, day after day, mile after mile. And by the end of her journey, she had hiked 1,100 miles and reached her chosen destination, the Bridge of the Gods, which spans the state line between Washington and Oregon.

Strayed's experience on the trail makes for great reading, but the real story here is her journey to find herself and heal from the aching emptiness her mother's death left in her. She is brutally honest in her telling, seeming to leave no details out, even those that show her in a negative light. She has made some bad decisions, hurt herself and hurt others, and sometimes all that candor is a little hard to stomach. Still, it takes a special kind of courage to write a memoir, to let the whole world see the ugly, scarred parts of your past, and I found myself drawn into Strayed's story even as I shrank from some of the details. And it doesn't hurt that she's a skilled writer.

So if you haven't yet given this book a chance, listen to Oprah and me, and read it now.