At the age of twenty-two, Jennifer Gilbert returned home from her a post-college adventures in Europe and was prepared to find a job and take Manhattan by storm. Instead, while on her way to visit a friend, she was targeted by a stranger then violently stabbed multiple times with a screwdriver. She survived the attempted murder, but gone was the carefree person who had once dreamed of going to work in powerful designer suits and high heels. In her place was a severely traumatized young woman who was struggling to put on a brave face for everyone else, but was dying inside.
Now the founder and head of Save the Date, a successful event planning company in New York City, Gilbert looks back on the difficult process of piecing herself back together after the attack. The only way she was initially able to move on was to bury her emotions under a carefully controlled facade, and the emotional effects lingered for long after. But though her personal life may have been suffering, Gilbert could not have anticipated all of the turns her professional life would take; she was well on her way to a successful future within a few years of the attack.
Gilbert paints a vivid image of what she went through and the personal revelations she discovered along the way. I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag begins with the harrowing retelling of what happened on that fateful day in May 1991. Though that event in itself was damaging enough, it was during her physical recovery that Gilbert began internalizing the need to swallow her pain:
This is what people said to me after the attack:
At least he didn’t get your face.
At least you’re alive.
At least you weren’t raped.
I learned that this is what “at least” means: Move on. Get over it. Let’s not talk about it. It could be worse, so it must be better…I’m sure this was meant to be encouraging. But the message I received was that I should feel lucky to be blessed with such resilience, and that they expected me to bounce back, good as new. Meanwhile, I couldn’t imagine leaving my house without an armed escort.
It would take the next two decades to undo much of the psychological damage that lingered after the attack. The book isn’t all serious, though. There are plenty of moments of humor and happiness, especially as Gilbert progresses in rebuilding her life. Many of the book’s lighthearted moments come from when she talks about one of her great loves: her work as an event planner. She gives readers an intriguing peek at the industry, recounting numerous anecdotes and providing insight on how some of the lessons she learned through her job also helped her cope with her personal issues.
I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag is a very well-written memoir that you’ll be tempted to read in one sitting. It’s short and fast-paced, but there’s a lot packed into these pages. It’s an amazing life story, and you’ll be rooting for Gilbert the entire time.
I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag was released on May 15, 2012 by Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.