Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag

Summary: When Jennifer Gilbert was just a year out of college, a twenty-two-year-old fresh-faced young woman looking forward to a bright future, someone tried to cut her life short in the most violent way. But she survived, and not wanting this traumatic event to define her life, she buried it deep within and never spoke of it again.

She bravely launched a fabulous career in New York as an event planner, designing lavish parties and fairy-tale weddings. Determined to help others celebrate and enjoy life's greatest moments, she was convinced she'd never again feel joy herself. Yet it was these weddings, anniversaries, and holiday parties, showered with all her love and attention through those silent, scary years, that slowly brought her back to life.

Always the calm in the event-planning storm—she could fix a ripped wedding dress, solve the problem of an undelivered wedding cake in the nick of time, and move a party with two days' notice when disaster struck—there was no crisis that she couldn't turn into a professional triumph. Somewhere along the way, she felt a stirring in her heart and began yearning for more than just standing on the sidelines living vicariously through other people's lives. She fell in love, had her heart broken a few times, and then one day she found true love in a place so surprising that it literally knocked her out of her chair.

As Gilbert learned over and over again, no one's entitled to an easy road, and some people's roads are bumpier than others. But survive each twist and turn she does—sometimes with tears, sometimes with laughter, and often with both.

Warm, wise, alternately painful and funny, I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag is an inspiring memoir of survival, renewal, and transformation. It's a tale about learning to let go and be happy after years of faking it, proving that while we can't always control what happens to us, we can control who we become. And instead of anticipating our present in a goodie bag at the end of an event, we realize our presence at every event is the real gift. -- Harper

Every once in awhile the mood strikes for me to pick up a memoir. I don't know if it's one of my favorite genres, but I appreciate it when I can read a book about someone who inspires me. And that certainly was the case with I NEVER PROMISED YOU A GOODIE BAG: A MEMOIR OF A LIFE THROUGH EVENTS -- THE ONES YOU PLAN AND THE ONES YOU DON'T by Jennifer Gilbert. I read this book in one sitting because I was riveted to Ms. Gilbert's life story; and after I finished this book, I couldn't stop thinking about her. In fact, I thought I NEVER PROMISED YOU A GOODIE BAG was an outstanding memoir -- possibly one of the best I've read in recent memory.

I honestly wasn't expecting all that much when I picked up I NEVER PROMISED YOU A GOODIE BAG. I thought it had the potential to be a good book, but I wasn't expecting it to affect me like it did. I figured there would be some cute stories about Ms. Gilbert's event planning business -- dealing with some Bridezillas as well as some averted party disasters; and there were certainly some of those entertaining stories. However, this book was so much more. It was a book about survival and change and making the best of your life despite the setbacks that can occur.

Jennifer Gilbert was a twenty something recent college graduate living in New York when she was brutally attacked by a stranger. She was stabbed multiple times and basically left for dead. Rather than letting this act define her, she devoted herself to starting her own event planning business; and she found huge success with her career and making others happy. However despite taking care of every one's problems, she didn't fully deal with the fall-out from her accident, nor did she allow herself to have happiness in the form of a successful personal life. It wasn't until she realized that her true love was in the most unexpected place that Ms. Gilbert truly discovered what life was all about.

I absolutely treasured each and every page of I NEVER PROMISED YOU A GOODIE BAG. It's possible that it was just the right time for me to read this book, but I am confident that this book has the power to change readers' lives. Ms. Gilbert went through a horrific experience that could have destroyed many people; however, she took control of her life and found true happiness. It most definitely wasn't an easy road for her, and it took an amazing amount of strength and courage to recover from the physical and mental injuries. Ms. Gilbert is certainly an inspiration.

But it's not just the facts of Ms. Gilbert's story that are inspirational. It was her insight into her life and the way she was able to communicate what she learned that made this memoir so amazing. Naturally there are many parts of her story that are sad (and even a little scary), but there is also a lot of humor in this book. She has managed to keep such a great perspective on everything (although I suspect that wasn't always the case), and I found her life lessons to be incredibly wise and motivational.

I don't know if this is the place to go into how much Ms. Gilbert's book affected me, but I just want to give you a little idea so you will understand the potential power of her story. I have had a very fortunate life with little serious issues so it's not as if I could directly relate to her recovery. What I gained from reading I NEVER PROMISED YOU A GOODIE BAG is the desire to face the adversity in my life (whether it be small things or big ones) with the grace and strength that Ms. Gilbert did. In addition, her story made me realize that while I'm tempted to go 100 miles per hour on every task I take on, I need to slow down and appreciate what I do have -- sometimes the best things are right in front of me and I don't see them.

The last few chapters of this book about Ms. Gilbert's role as a mother and wife, however, were ones that I could relate to. I so appreciated how Ms. Gilbert embraced motherhood full-on and was able to balance her professional and personal lives. (I shouldn't have been surprised because she is someone who can keep things in perspective.) In addition, I loved how much she was able to learn about life from her husband and children. When one of her sons faced a health crisis, it taught her a thing or two about control (or lack thereof) as well as the ability to handle what life throws at her.

In summary, I want to leave you with one of the most powerful passages in the book:

Everything in my life has taught me this:
You can't control what may happen to you in this life, but you can control who you want to be after it happens.

I highly recommend I NEVER PROMISED YOU A GOODIE BAG. I found Ms. Gilbert's story to be so inspirational, and her honestly and candidness even changed the way I look at my life.

Thanks to Engelman & Co. for providing a review copy of this book.


bermudaonion said...

I didn't realize this was a memoir until you told me. You know how I love memoirs - this one sounds fantastic to me.

Beth F said...

I know, right? My article featuring this book will appear on the SheKnows Book Lounge site later this month.

Jenn's Bookshelves said...

I've had this book on my watch list for some time. Your review has reminded me just how much I need to read this book.

Carin Siegfried said...

I had skimmed a description earlier and I thought it was just a funny, fluffy memoir like Jennifer Lancaster's - I totally missed the attack part! Yikes, skimming isn't always the best idea! Your review totally has me thinking this book should go on my TBR list. I love memoirs, and this sounds excellent.