Some books have titles that are simple, everyday titles. Some books have titles that grab your attention and result in many questions. I think it’s fair to say the title of Jennette McCurdy’s memoir falls in the attention-grabbing category. Some readers may recognize McCurdy as the child/teen actor best known for her role as Sam Puckett on the Nickelodeon shows iCarly and Sam and Cat. The life of a child actor is rarely a glamourous one, and McCurdy’s is no exception. Forced into acting by her mother Debra, McCurdy tells her story, roughly starting at the age of 6. Their family was poor, her mother seemed to have a hoarding problem (among other mental health issues), and Jennette and her siblings were raised Mormon. The relationship between Jennette and her mother (and her mother and the rest of their family) is one of abuse – emotional, physical and mental. Jennette is manipulated into doing anything and everything that will make her mother happy, including not changing her favourite colour for fear of upsetting Debra, starving herself (as her mom called it, “calorie restriction” starting at age 11), being showered by her mother as Jennette likely “won’t know how to do it right” until she was 16, sharing her emails, income and any other personal information, and of course, becoming an actress (the long lost dream of Debra herself).
When the memoir begins, Debbie is in remission from stage four breast cancer, undergoing a mastectomy and bone marrow transplant to survive. Even though Jennette was only 2 when Debbie went through this ordeal, Debbie ensures her and her family know ever detail (while also making Jennette feel guilty for not remembering…even though she was 2 years old). Throughout Jennette’s life, Debbie uses this past diagnosis as a way to get out of, or into, anything she wants, including paying bills and obtaining special privileges’. Reading about how intent Jennette was on pleasing her mother – at the cost of her own happiness and health – was heartbreaking. From the outside, it is blaringly clear that Debbie is emotionally abusing her daughter from as young as 2 years old. While there are glimpses into Debbie’s relationship with Jennette’s siblings as well, Jennette is the focus. Her father seemed to be scared of Debra and never helped Jennette try and escape her wrath. Anytime Jennette voiced an opinion that didn’t match her mother’s, Debbie would become hysterical, screaming and crying on cue until the opinion changed. Debbie suffocated Jennette with “love” while also calling her derogatory names, forcing her to have anorexia (“their” goal weight for Jennette was 89 pounds) which later turned into bulimia, and forcing Jennette to use the money she earns from her acting jobs to pay for everything in Debbie’s life and house.
The memoir is broken into two sections: Before and After. As the title implies, Jennette’s mother does die – her cancer returns and Debbie dies when Jennette was 21. At this time, iCarly has ended and the spinoff show Sam and Cat is beginning (with Jennette’s new costar Ariana Grande). Jennette’s relationship with her mother was not the only toxic one in her life, sadly. Her time on Nickelodeon was riddled with troubles. The man Jennette refers to as “The Creator” is one of the main problems, pressuring Jennette to drink when she is underage, forcing Jennette to try on (and be photographed in) bikinis, and creating an overall toxic work environment for the adults and children alike. When Sam and Cat is cancelled, Jennette is offered $300,000 to never speak publicly about her experiences on Nickelodeon – she refuses. Without her mother, Jennette is lost. On her 22nd birthday, she reflects: “My entire life’s purpose, keeping Mom alive and happy, was for nothing. All those years I spent focusing on her, all the time I spent orienting my every thought and action toward what I thought would please her most, was pointless. Because now she’s gone. I tried desperately to understand and know my mother – what made her sad, what made her happy, and on and on and on – at the expense of ever really knowing myself.”
I could go on and on about this memoir. While it is definitely difficult to read at some points, McCurdy uses humour to keep the story from feeling too heavy. I couldn’t wait to get to the point where Jennette was healthy and happy on her own, cheering for her the entire time I read this book. “I’m Glad My Mom Died” won the GoodReads Award for Best Memoir and Autobiography by a landslide – her book had over 200,000 votes, the second place winner had 40,000. This memoir isn’t just for those who watched McCurdy on TV. Trying to please everyone (especially parents), figuring out who you really are, and the struggles it takes to get there are all something many can relate to. Thankfully, Jennette has retired from acting and is pursuing her writing career, so hopefully she will write more fantastic works in the future! I highly recommend checking out Jennette McCurdy’s “I’m Glad My Mom Died” today!
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