Jennette McCurdy; you may remember her from some of your favorite Nickelodeon shows as a kid. She played the spunky fierce character of Sam Puckett, the comedic relief for iCarly and overall is one of the most loved characters. Her wholesome, kid-friendly television appearances made her a household name, but she fell out of the public eye after her 2016 Netflix show Between was canceled abruptly. So many (including myself) found it shocking when she released a book. Celebrities write memoirs all the time, but few are able to garner such a reaction by the title alone. Ever since I’m Glad My Mom Died was announced, it has been praised, protested, and pondered by everyone who’s seen the title. The cover features Jennette in pastel colors with a wide grin across her face holding an urn full of confetti. While many condemned her for such a blasphemous title it did not stop the book from selling out from Amazon, Target, and Barnes & Noble in less than 24 hours.
When I was finally able to get my hands on a copy- I was ecstatic. I grew up watching iCarly and Victorious, I even had my first celebrity crush on Jerry Trainer who played Carly’s weird artsy older brother Spencer. Since then multiple actors have come forward and accused the show’s creator, Dan Schneider, of misconduct. They allege that Schneider sexualized the underage actors in disturbing scenes, bullied workers on set, and dismissed the idea of female writers. This makes watching the shows especially hard now, since I cringe everytime they linger on a shot of an actress’s feet or a slimy substance gets poured all over the face of a teenage girl. McCurdy’s book was the final nail in the coffin for me. I can no longer watch the show without noticing how much weight she loses between each season. While her costars are developing, she still looks like a twelve year old who has not yet hit puberty. While she’s outspoken and hilarious on set, you know as soon as the camera’s cut she went back to being the timid pushover her mother had trained her to be. She starts her novel with her first memories of her mother, but it escalates quickly into a horrifying story of a young girl being taken advantage of by Hollywood, while her mother watched and encouraged it.
Her acting career started at six after her mother told her about her own failed dreams and asked Jennette if she’d like to be an actor. McCurdy writes, “there was only one right answer” knowing that any response that was less than enthusiastic would trigger an outburst. Within a week of having this conversation, Jennette was signed to her first agency and started her harrowing journey to child stardom. She recalls an incident when she had a fever of 103 and her mom forced her to go to an audition to play a homeless child. At just ten years old her family relied so much on her income that she was unable to take sick days. When she wasn’t auditioning, she was going to dance class (fourteen classes every week), or an all day acting class that consumed the rest of her time. She was not able to experience childhood since she alone carried the burden of making the family money. She lived with her three brothers, her parents, and her maternal grandparents in a three bedroom house that had been completely consumed by her mother’s hoarding. There was so much junk in the house that Jennette and her brothers slept on mats in the living room while other parts of the house were completely inaccessible. After her first guest star gig on the show Malcolm in The Middle (another show that was a staple in my household), she purchased herself a real bed. Within months the bed was covered in old newspapers, ziploc bags full of broken mugs, and other garbage her mother refused to discard. In an interview with ABC, she described her mother’s “violent and erratic unstable behavior” as a huge tension in the house. Her family was constantly tiptoeing around trying to avoid an outburst.
The memoir is incredibly frustrating to read because I spent the whole time wanting to slap her mom and scream at every adult in her life who refused to intervene. Why were they letting an eleven year old count her calories? Who was looking out for her when Schneider requested pictures of her in a bikini? Every new page brings forward a new problematic situation that makes it difficult to read at times.
Possibly one of the most heartbreaking sagas throughout the book is the eating disorder that her mother promoted throughout her teenage years. McCurdy first began calorie restricting as a way to impress her mom, writing that, “Calorie restriction has brought me and mom closer than we already were, which is really saying something because we were already so close. Calorie restriction is wonderful.” I felt that every chapter needed a bold trigger warning as McCurdy dives deep into the gruesome side effects of her eating disorder. At one point she looks back on spitting out a molar in a plane bathroom after bulimia had worn down the enamel of her teeth. She describes the act of binging and purging so vividly it at times made me feel sick to my stomach. It took years after her mother’s death to start seeking help because once that pattern starts it’s hard to break. Her mom’s voice still lives in her head, shaming her with every step she takes towards recovery.
She leaves the book off on a hopeful note of her working on herself and slowly achieving a healthier lifestyle. By the end of the novel the title made complete sense to me. McCurdy and her mother shared a complicated relationship with many highs and lows but in the end if she had not died McCurdy would have never began her path towards a better life. Overall, the book is a great look into the exploitation of children, a genre I’m sure we’ll see more of as child celebrities begin to grow old enough to speak out. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the book was written and how many personal details and anecdotes were included. After reading this I might not be able to watch iCarly the same way, but I have a newfound appreciation for Jennette McCurdy and can’t wait to see what she does in the future.