I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy is an eye-opening memoir examining the abuse the Nickelodeon star said she endured from the mother who forced her into Hollywood.
Jennette McCurdy starred in the Nickelodeon series iCarly (currently in reboot mode on Paramount+ without her) for five seasons from 2007-2012 as Sam Puckett, the supportive, food-loving friend of Miranda Cosgrove’s Carly whose internet show is a viral success. She even scored a spin-off with fellow Nickelodeon star Ariana Grande called Sam & Cat that only lasted a season from 2013-2014 with Ariana being on the brink of pop stardom. Despite finding herself famous at a young age, Jennette never wanted it.
Acting in Hollywood is her mother’s dream. The McCurdys live in Garden Grove, an hour and a half away from the entertainment epicenter in nearby Orange County, but they’re living the low-income life in Jennette’s father’s family home with Jennette, her mother Debra, sometimes her father, her mother’s parents, and her three brothers. By the time Jennette is two years old, Debra is battling breast cancer. As the family copes with the grim diagnosis, they start going back to church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints becomes the sanctuary Jennette connects with. Now that they’re practicing Mormons again, the family feels blessed when Debra goes into remission. But her mother is still not happy, especially with Jennette’s father who seems unable to provide what they need. Frustrated, Debra would complain that her parents wouldn’t let her go to Hollywood, again a short distance away. Then one day six-year-old Jennette says she’ll go to Hollywood for her mother. She knows this will make her mother happy.
They go on casting calls, where Debra is already upset that the untrained Jennette isn’t getting speaking roles right away. Like most actors, Jennette is starting out in the background. She transitions to higher-level background work when she appears gloomy in a film’s photo shoot; that’s what the director wanted from another child actor who couldn’t look as gloomy as Jennette. By this time, Jennette has her gloominess down pat as she feels too old for her overbearing mother to be going to the bathroom with her to clean her up and showering with her.
To help her stay small for child acting roles, her mother tells her about “calorie restriction” and how she can eat 1,000 calories a day or less. Together, mother and daughter are barely eating full meals. At eleven, Jennette starts losing weight at a rapid pace. A casting director warns her mother that Jennette may have an eating disorder. But her mother waves the concern off. Even Jennette’s doctor advises her mother to help Jennette with her eating issues. Again, her mother ignores the advice.
After a series of TV and film appearances, Jennette scores her first leading role as Sam Puckett in iCarly. The pilot episode airs when she’s fifteen years old. Right away, her mother is discouraging a friendship between Jennette and Miranda, the show’s star who already made a name for herself on the Nickelodeon sitcom Drake & Josh, because she sees Miranda as troublesome, accusing her of not believing in God. Jennette feels conflicted about wanting to be friends with her co-star and being a good Mormon daughter. It’s like the two versions of her can’t coexist. She befriends Miranda anyway through secret AOL instant messages after spending days on set with her.
As the show grows in popularity, the more famous Jennette becomes. That translates to more opportunities for the rising teen star like heading to Nashville for a country music recording contract that doesn’t last, being introduced to alcohol by iCarly’s creator Dan Schneider who is unnamed but was investigated for similar on-set abuse allegations last year, and running off with a thirty-something show producer who guilts her for him breaking up with his girlfriend of five years. Jennette’s quick introduction to adulthood forces her mother to disown her. Her mother again is battling breast cancer and looks for a way to edge Jennette out of stardom due to her bad behavior by trying to steal her mostly tween fanbase.
The book starts with Jennette whispering to her unconscious dying mother that she finally reached their goal weight of eighty-nine pounds. By this time, the anorexia and bulimia has ravaged Jennette’s body to the point she doesn’t know how to eat and enjoy a meal. The “calorie restriction” her mother taught her to keep up with Hollywood standards still has a hold on her, so much so that boyfriends encourage her to seek therapy in order to establish healthy relationships. In therapy, she learns about how abusive her mother was by not only teaching her dangerous eating habits but controlling her every move in order for her to be a success in Hollywood. Even after Debra’s death in 2013, Jennette learns that her mother hid a secret that forces her on another journey. What may have been out of love was toxic, so toxic that Jennette realizes she never knew who she really was, just the version of her that wanted to make her mother happy.
The comedic yet heart-wrenching title of the memoir helps normalize the mother-daughter relationship that isn’t as rosy as a lot of portrayals in the media. We see more stories where mothers dote on their daughters, and daughters call their mothers their heroines. But for many daughters, their mothers push their ideas of perfection, especially about their bodies, onto their daughters that creates self-loathing that morphs into mental illness. In the author’s case, her mother’s constant critiques on her body and her acting skills forced her into a downward spiral of eating disorders.
The mothers with their ideas of perfection usually feel they can’t be as perfect as they want to be, so their daughters have to be that perfect. We see Jennette’s mother become disappointed about her life path, feeling she was unable to take on Hollywood herself because her mother told her not to. Jennette details the frustration of dealing with her mother’s mother after her mother dies. The drama-queen antics seem hereditary when her grandmother is upset that Jennette wants to quit acting and undo financial decisions that no longer serve her as a former actor. The generational trauma of these women not feeling able to fulfill their dreams falls onto Jennette as she realizes she never had a chance to figure out her own dreams. Her formative years are gone; they had been spent on making Debra’s dreams come true as Debra read Woman’s World magazines in on-set trailers and networked with other celebrity momagers like Barbara Cameron, the mother of Full House star Candace Cameron Bure and Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron, who becomes Jennette’s onetime agent.
Overall, this memoir explores the complex ties between a daughter and her mother with the backdrop of Hollyweird contributing to their dysfunctional relationship. It’s also a memoir where the author has come to terms with her feelings about her mother, hence the controversial title that should be seen as honest. In abusive relationships, once the abuser is gone, then the person who was abused can heal. This book, which was born out of the author’s one-woman shows, is about the healing process of self-discovery.