A truly authentic and genuine celebrity memoir is a unicorn. Jennette McCurdy’s highly anticipated debut, “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” is everything a good memoir should be — honest, funny and exposes a couple of industry secrets to boot. To be honest, no matter how much I like a celebrity, it takes more than notoriety to get me to pick up their book. That being said, I think “iCarly” fans like myself were excited to see that the star of such a quintessential 2010s children’s show was publishing a novel with such an eye-catching title.
“I’m Glad My Mom Died” details McCurdy’s life, acting career and, ultimately, relationship with her toxic and abusive mother. At the beginning of the memoir, McCurdy narrates her memories with a childlike curiosity. Rather than simply retelling the memories of her mother growing up, McCurdy writes the chapters on her younger years as if she’s been transported back into her younger self’s shoes: “‘Sorry,’ I say while I poop and Mom wets a paper towel with water. I’m embarrassed she still insists on wiping my butt. I tried to tell her recently that now that I’m eight, I think I can handle it, but she looked like she was gonna cry and said she needs to do it until I’m at least ten because she doesn’t want skid marks on my Pocahontas underwear.”
As the story progresses, the tone of McCurdy’s written voice matures along with her as she gains awareness of the facets of her life that have shaped her. When reflecting on advice from her therapist, she realizes she doesn’t want to fall into the same patterns as her mom for the rest of her life: “I think of Mom. I don’t want to become her. I don’t want to live off Chewy granola bars and steamed vegetables. I don’t want to spend my life restricting and dog-earing Woman’s World fad diet pages. Mom didn’t get better. But I will.” Throughout the course of the memoir, we see a woman grappling with a toxic parent, an eating disorder (started and encouraged by her mother), a struggling sense of self, unhealthy romantic relationships, a lukewarm acting career and an abusive director. Through it all, McCurdy succeeds at keeping the tone light while never shying away from the more tragic aspects of the story. After finding out an important, life-changing detail about her family’s past, she is understandably upset and gets into her Uber where an Ariana Grande song is playing. We hear earlier in the book about McCurdy’s jealousy of Grande during their time on “Sam and Cat” which adds a bit of humor to an otherwise awful situation.
After the book was initially announced, the hype surrounding its publication was significant. Clips and excerpts were all over social media, which made me a bit skeptical at first. The sections I had seen were just so shockingly good that I’d assumed all the best parts had made it online and that the rest of the book would be fairly boring in comparison. I was utterly wrong. Nearly every time I made it to a scene I had heard about on TikTok or Twitter, it was followed by an even more shockingly awful detail about McCurdy’s abusive mother.
Though the book does cover other topics in McCurdy’s life, the underlying subtext of it all is her relationship with her mother. Throughout the course of the book, she does an excellent job of convincing readers why they, too, should be glad her mom died. It’s not difficult to board the Mrs. McCurdy hate train from the very first page, which is a prologue where she is trying to wake her sick mom out of a coma by telling her that she’s finally reached their goal weight of 89 pounds, because McCurdy genuinely believes this is something her mom would be excited to hear in a coma. After whispering her weight to her mom several times, she says, “I’m so sure this fact will work that I lean all the way back in my chair and pompously cross my legs.”
Each consecutive page gives us another reason to dislike Mrs. McCurdy. If the thing that made you hate her mom wasn’t that she forced McCurdy into acting and would have emotional breakdowns when her daughter showed interest in other hobbies, it was that she emotionally abused McCurdy’s father. If it wasn’t her mother suggesting calorie restriction when McCurdy expressed concern over developing boobs at age 12, it was the fact that she showered McCurdy until she was at least 16 years old. While Mrs. McCurdy was at her sickest, dying from cancer, she still found the energy to chastise McCurdy for eating Burger King on the way to the hospital. It’s difficult to put into words the full scope of the abuse McCurdy suffered, and it truly needs to be read to be believed.
McCurdy also shines a light more generally on the abuse child actors typically suffer in Hollywood. In one example, she talks about the way in which she was valued for her ability to cry on command — it booked her multiple jobs in commercials and TV shows. McCurdy recounts one situation where she broke down sobbing in front of a casting director, thinking about all of the conflict at home between her parents and siblings; afterwards, she was praised by the agents and her mother and immediately booked the job. Her ability to be emotional and raw onscreen was a direct reflection of the inner turmoil within her life, exacerbated by her mother’s pressure to perform. While obviously not every child actor on screen is forced to be there, the exploitative practices of the industry affected McCurdy in a way she is still trying to recover from.
“I’m Glad My Mom Died” is also an interesting exploration into the myth of celebrity and the ways in which we put people, especially child actors, on pedestals. Take Demi Lovato, who starred in classics such as “Camp Rock” and “Sonny with a Chance” all while harboring a massive cocaine addiction. Or the stars of “Victorious,” who were allegedly often drunk on set. From my perspective as a child watching these shows, I thought these actors were the coolest people alive. Years later, it’s obvious that things were not always as they seemed.
One detail I really enjoyed, however, was that McCurdy’s relationship with her costar and titular character of “iCarly,” Miranda Cosgrove, was as real off-screen as it was on. Throughout the story, McCurdy cites her friendship with Cosgrove as a genuine light in her life, which was extremely heartwarming to read. Interestingly, McCurdy’s relationship with Ariana Grande, her co-star on the “iCarly”/“Victorious” spin-off “Sam and Cat,” was not as close. McCurdy discusses the many issues that she and Grande had that led to the cancellation of the show. She also goes into detail about some of the abuse she suffered from the show’s creator, Dan Schneider.
The Atlantic heralded “I’m Glad My Mom Died” as a “triumph of the confessional genre,” and it is a well-deserved compliment. McCurdy cracks herself wide open and pours the contents onto each page of her book. She unabashedly details her eating disorder behaviors at their very worst — many of which she was actively struggling with through the filming of “iCarly.”
This detail in relation to the character she played onscreen fascinated me. A main trait of Sam Puckett, McCurdy’s character on “iCarly,” is her obsession with food. In a way, this was a very true trait of McCurdy’s offscreen life, too. Her eating disorders caused an obsession with food, but one unlike that of her onscreen character. McCurdy’s eating disorders controlled her life, at times affecting even her romantic relationships. McCurdy would be throwing up her “lunch” of lettuce without dressing and then head directly on set to swing around Puckett’s “butter sock.”
Admittedly, Sam was my least favorite character on “iCarly.” I found her to be too loud, and generally kind of annoying. Because of my preconceived notions about her character, I was not expecting to like McCurdy so much. “I’m Glad My Mom Died” humanizes McCurdy in the best of ways because she’s not afraid to expose the most unflattering parts of herself. At times, the book was incredibly tragic and difficult to read, but McCurdy’s witty and light tone generally keeps it at least entertaining. Her life was no doubt full of challenges, and she discusses them in great detail; what was a bit less complete were her descriptions of her healing. The book spends most of its 320 pages talking about the horrible things McCurdy has had to overcome and spends much less time talking about the ways in which she is better. To be fair, most of what she went through are things that she will probably never be able to fully move past, but I still wish there was more of a focus on the ways in which she has grown or more of an acknowledgment that growth is ongoing.
McCurdy mentions that she always thought she might enjoy directing and writing rather than acting, and I say let her. I enjoyed “I’m Glad My Mom Died” from start to finish and would love to see more from McCurdy. Anyone who is able to live through what McCurdy has, and still come onto the set of “iCarly” for six seasons to play one of the silliest and most outlandish television characters in recent memory, deserves all of our attention. I’m not sure what McCurdy plans next, but she has an excited audience member in me.
Daily Arts Writer Isabella Kassa can be reached at email@example.com.