Content warning: physical and emotional abuse, and eating disorders.
I’m Glad My Mom Died is a 320-page-long headfirst deep dive into former actress Jennette McCurdy’s troubled and complicated relationship with her late mother, Debra, who died of cancer in 2013. I’m Glad My Mom Died is beyond gripping, and is full of genuinely jaw-dropping moments. It’s incredibly real, and a profoundly honest look at Jennette’s relationship with her mother for what it was, and the long-lasting impact it has had on her. Beyond that, she explores her time starring in both iCarly and Sam & Cat on Nickelodeon and working with the shows’ abusive creator – simply referred to as The Creator, bar one instance in which he is referred to by (first) name: Dan Schneider.
Jennette reveals early on that her life’s purpose had always revolved around her mother, around making her happy, and her living vicariously through Jennette as much as was physically, and even emotionally, possible. At the tender age of six, Debra pushed Jennette into acting, citing that she wanted to give her daughter the opportunities that she wasn’t allowed to have, as her own parents wouldn’t let her pursue an acting career. From this moment on, Jennette would be fully consumed by her mother, the boundaries between them rapidly disintegrating. Jennette’s move into acting only intensified her mother’s obsession with her and her appearance, to the extent that she began introducing ‘enhancements’, like teeth whitening, hair colouring, and more. At the expense of knowing herself, she knew her mother.
Debra, an obvious narcissist, insisted on infantilising her children and creating a false dependency on her by occasionally showering Jennette, then eleven, with her older son Scott, then sixteen. She gave her daughter intimate examinations up until she was seventeen and to cope Jennette began developing signs of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and dissociating to get through the exams. Also at age eleven, as Jennette worried her mother wouldn’t love her if she got older and therefore bigger, Debra introduced her to calorie restriction, which led to anorexia, and sparked a long-term and seriously debilitating struggle with food and body image. They even started having weekly weighing sessions, and Debra monitored the foods she ate. By fourteen Jennette was so thin and so infantilised that she was still sitting in a booster seat in the backseat of her mother’s car, calling her mommy long after it was age-appropriate. Her anorexia transitioned into binge eating, and eventually it slid into chronic bulimia, which had become so serious that she once lost a tooth in an airplane bathroom in the middle of a purge as a result of it being so worn down by stomach acid. It had become a major source of emotional suppression and control, and kept her body small and childlike as she desired.
I’m Glad My Mom Died will do a lot for a lot of people. There’s a particular taboo or stigma that exists around being a victim of abuse, especially being a daughter abused by her mother, as explored in an article in Harper’s Bazaar. There will be people out there who refuse to believe such systematic abuse even took place, simply because this was a mother who abused her daughter. Beyond this book possibly being a source of validation for survivors of parental abuse, Jennette talks candidly about other areas of her life that were impacted in a kind of domino effect. As a result of her insecurities, which were essentially fuelled by her mother, Jennette began to develop feelings of jealousy toward fellow Nickelodeon actress and Sam & Cat co-star, Ariana Grande. While Jennette had to turn down other filming opportunities while on iCarly because the writers wouldn’t work around her absence, Ariana was off performing at the Billboard Music Awards or being on the next Elle magazine cover or playing charades at Tom Hanks’ house. Jennette talks about how she couldn’t and didn’t like her after the Tom Hanks name-drop, and that Ariana missing work felt like a personal attack. While we all experience feelings of envy, it seems as though we hardly talk about it because it feels shameful, embarrassing, and like something to keep secret and private. It takes a certain amount of vulnerability to talk about feeling jealous in any context, let alone announce it in your memoir and have those feelings of jealousy be directed toward someone who is now one of the biggest pop stars in the world.
I can only imagine how liberating it was for Jennette McCurdy to write this book, to give it the title she did, to be as deeply honest and upfront, but also darkly comical, as she is about her profoundly codependent relationship with her mother, as well as the abuse inflicted by Dan Schneider, who once inappropriately massaged her shoulders and seemed keen on being a ‘mentor’ of sorts to her. After both shows had ended, Nickelodeon offered her $300k to not speak publicly about her experiences on set, especially those relating to Schneider, but she turned it down. In the later chapters Jennette describes going to therapy for the first time, the beginnings of her understanding that her mother was in fact abusive, and how difficult it was to reckon with this reality. Up until that point, sure her mother was complex but she was a loving mother at the end of the day. Jennette also recounts receiving treatment for her eating disorder, and developing a dependency on alcohol after her mother’s passing. I’m Glad My Mom Died is honestly the realest book of the year. Jennette shies away from nothing, unveiling the ugly truth of the matter with a flair for the comedic, the material having been taken from her one-woman show of the same name. She’s begun recovering from an astonishingly unhealthy and rather debilitating mother-daughter relationship, developing healthier relationships with both food and her body as a result. As she says toward the end, her mother didn’t get better but she will.