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Review of I’m Glad My Mom Died by

I’m Glad My Mom Died

by Jennette McCurdy

4 out of 5 stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Reviewed .

Shelved under

Every time someone mentions iCarly, I feel old. This teen sitcom bookended my university years, 2007–2012, and as such its actors are my contemporaries even though they play younger roles. It’s easily the kind of show I would have watched had it premiered five years prior. As it is, I never got into it, and so I knew precious little of Miranda Cosgrove, Nathan Kress, or indeed, Jennette McCurdy. So when my best friend gave me I’m Glad My Mom Died for Christmas a couple years prior, I shelved it with mild interest, waiting for the right moment to pull it down and start reading.

This might not have been the right moment, but I read it. Wow. It has been a while since I read a book simultaneously so heavy yet so easy to get through. I’m not sure if McCurdy had a ghostwriter, but I really liked how she organized her thoughts and shared her story here. This memoir, pretty much chronological, starts in McCurdy’s early years as her mother pushes her into acting. It brings us through the iCarly years (McCurdy’s “big break”), past that, and then takes us just past her mother’s death. Divided into “Before” and “After” sections, the book is, not surprisingly, largely about McCurdy’s relationship with her mother and how that has influenced her career (not to mention her entire life). It’s equal parts fascinating and horrifying.

McCurdy slices through stereotypes about actors like a Jedi with a light-sabre. She wasn’t born into the biz. Her family doesn’t come from wealth. She also wasn’t “discovered.” She gets into acting because her mom is incredibly stubborn and ambitious on her behalf, and when she slowly begins to find success, she isn’t launched into stardom overnight. Most of her money goes to her mother and her family’s bills, and even when she does splurge on something like a home, it proves a bit much for her. Similarly, McCurdy belies the conventional notions of child actors: she isn’t spoiled, and if she is a bit out of touch with what a typical childhood and adolescence is like, it might be more because she grew up Mormon and homeschooled than because she grew up acting.

In this sense, I’m Glad My Mom Died is a clarion call to reform the acting business, especially where child actors are concerned. I don’t think anything that McCurdy shares in this book is surprising or even shocking. We have heard this story before, probably too many times—we just don’t listen. Tacitly, as a society, we accept that experiences like McCurdy’s are the price we pay so that we can have an endless rotating cast of child faces on our screens.

Consider, for instance, everything she writes about Dan Schneider. McCurdy calls him only “the Creator” in this book, but it’s transparently obvious to whom she refers. Serendipitously, I started this just after Quiet on Set premiered (though I haven’t watched it yet), which does refer to Schneider by name. Everything I heard about him in the media surrounding this documentary matches with what McCurdy shares here. The structure of our television and movie industry is such that people who enjoy abusing positions of power find it relatively easy to carve out their own little fiefdoms—and we let them, because they are “geniuses” and “auteurs.”

McCurdy’s abusive relationship with her mom is a whole other thing. It’s hard, reading her recollection of what her mom did to her. She strives to maintain a present tense, describing each memory as if it is happening in real-time rather than editorializing it. So she’ll be like, “Yeah, my mom showered with me,” and we the readers will be yelling, “That’s sexual abuse!” at the book until our voices are hoarse, but it isn’t until much later in the book that McCurdy processes that memory from that point of view. While effective at conveying how normalized her mom’s abusive behaviour felt, it’s also incredibly jarring. It’s no wonder McCurdy struggled to maintain even basic friendships, let alone deeper platonic or romantic relationships, even after her mom’s death.

Good for her for quitting acting. Good for her for getting out. All these “where are they now” articles that talk about has-been stars who haven’t had another hit since their early days of acting tend to downplay any actor who has successfully left the business on their terms. It’s easy for me to say this, I guess, as someone who didn’t watch iCarly and didn’t fall in love with Sam Puckett. Most of the actors I’ve enjoyed who have since left acting seem to have done so because they joined cults and went to prison (yikes, Allison Mack). Though not a big part of this book, McCurdy occasionally mentions how unsettling it has been to have people recognize her almost exclusively as Sam, to request that she identify herself with Sam in a way that is essentially traumatic for her. I joke sometimes about being a fangirl, but I’m not sure I will ever have it in me to obsess so much over any one person, character, or TV show. (I mean, I did name myself after Kara Danvers, and I adore Melissa Benoist and Nicole Maines, but I like to think I do this at a healthy distance….)

I’m Glad My Mom Died is a stellar if sad story. I hope that sharing it has helped McCurdy make some peace with how long it took her to get off the rails of her mother’s ambition and find her own. I wish her luck in whatever she is putting her hand to these days—even if it’s just growing a garden or, you know, existing. Everyone deserves to walk their own path.


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