Reviewed by Jill Franclemont

I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag – what a clever, sassy title. Almost as clever and sassy as Jennifer Gilbert herself. The Jennifer Gilbert of the opening part of this extremely well-written, thoughtful, and deftly-handled memoir about a life interrupted, that is. That Jennifer Gilbert is nearly lost for much of the book – and many many years – after a horrific violent crime that occurs when she is barely an adult. She is found again, mercifully and thankfully, before the book closes (that’s not really a spoiler; you’d hardly expect a memoir to not travel a full circle, now would you?), leaving us, hopefully, many more years of Jennifer’s particular brand of sass.

I cannot even imagine a more dissonant set of life-events. From a relatively cosseted, protective-bubble of a childhood/young adulthood to a shattering burst of all-too-real reality – the kind of reality that gets highlighted on the evening news and CNN. Jennifer’s tale of survival and the redemption of her own life is an amazing one. Literally. I cannot believe anyone could travel through the tunnel she did and come out the other side with the light, the grace, and the ability to brutally and frankly self-analyze that she did. Her story is a lovely journey of self-realization and, ultimately, self-salvation – lovelier for the extreme ugliness of the event that led her to have to travel it.

She deftly navigates her way through mental health issues, avoidance, recovery, self-abnegation, and the pain of missed and lost opportunities – in a voice that doesn’t beg for pity or ask for anything at all beyond the chance to be heard. The writing is clear, crisp, and focused. At times it is brutally honest – at others, simply brutal. I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag is a powerful piece of writing, difficult to read at times, but well worth the difficulty. If she could live through it, we can read about it – and learn something from her experience.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

A former corporate attorney and government relations/health policy executive, Jill-Elizabeth walked away from that world (well, skipped actually) and toward a more literary life (equally challenging, but infinitely more enjoyable). If you enjoyed this review, please visit her at Jill-Elizabeth.com, the official home of All Things Jill-Elizabeth – that is, all of the teehees, musings, rants, book reviews, writing exercises, and witticisms of her burgeoning writing career.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.