DDW takes a look at former child star Jennette McCurdy’s memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died, set for hardback release in the U.K. on September 15th.
Jennette McCurdy polarised the internet when her memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died was announced. It was a risky move, the kind of all-out dark humour that got Kathy Griffin cancelled after posting Trump’s severed head on Twitter. “One moment you were crying that your mother was dying of cancer and now you’re writing this book about her,” writes a commenter on Instagram.
“Even if she was toxic as you say, the title of this book is vile. May God forgive you.” Remarks from strangers on the internet vacillate between chastising rebukes and overwhelming proclamations of love – conditions reflective of McCurdy’s upbringing with her mother. It’s a story we are familiar with, the bread-winning child actor from a broken home manipulated and financially abused by their family and the industry.
McCurdy’s work comes hot off the heals of the #FreeBritney campaign, and her fellow Nickelodeon-star Jamie Lynn Spears’s tell-all Thing I Should Have Said. As things between Britney and Jamie Lynn grew increasingly litigious following Jamie Lynn’s exploitation of Britney’s personal history, McCurdy’s no holds barred approach to the abusive reality of her childhood in the entertainment industry was set to either destroy her career or elevate her above her peers.
I’m Glad My Mom Died managed to defy the critics and succeed in its conceit, primarily because McCurdy’s life experience is so utterly hellish and her talent as a writer is assured and executed with surgical precision. Since the late Carrie Fisher, no celebrity memoirist has succeeded in capturing the chaos of childhood in Hollywood with such astutely wry observations.
Jennette McCurdy is a natural and recognises that. Writing was always her passion, something “inherently real” amid the fake acting industry. Yet when McCurdy documents the moment she excitedly rushes to the hospital to show her first screenplay Henry Road to her mother Debra, Debra’s response hits a reader like a tonne of bricks.
“I just hope you don’t like writing more than you like acting. […] Writers dress frumpy and get fat, you know? I would never want your little actress’s peach butt to turn into a big, giant writer’s watermelon butt.” When Debra finally takes a momentary interest in the screenplay, she destroys months of McCurdy’s work with the antipathetic jibe, “they already did that in The Parent Trap”.
Such recorded interactions, alongside the recognisable manipulation of McCurdy, lend a gonzo quality to I’m Glad My Mom Died. It’s palpably real and vivid in its recollection. Sleaze drips from instances of underage bikini polaroids shot for the unnamed ‘Creator’ at Nickelodeon. It’s hard not to feel infuriated on behalf of McCurdy as she recounts her experience of getting her own spin-off only for it to become a joint vehicle for an often-absent
Ariana Grande and always-present McCurdy. Grande took liberal leave to bolster her music at the time with permission from Nickelodeon, while McCurdy was expected to “hold down the fort”. “So I have to turn down movies while Ariana’s off whistle-toning at the Billboard Music Awards?” McCurdy quips, equally dismissive and devastated. It is a tale as old as time.
McCurdy does everything right – attends every audition, rehearsal, and taping, and bears the brunt of hebephilic misogyny. Still, McCurdy was belittled by the industry-at-large and her own show while showing up to her commitments. Class and ableism are central to McCurdy’s analysis of her resentment toward Grande.
She provides an almost analytical examination that revises the starlet feud once used as pre-teen tabloid fodder in 2014. “I grew up in Garbage Grove in a goddamned hoarder house with a cancerous mom who constantly wept about not being able to afford rent and utility bills,” wrote McCurdy. “Ariana grew up in Boca Raton, Florida, an incredibly wealthy, idyllic town, with a healthy mom who could buy her whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted”. “I don’t even want Chanel outfits – I don’t like the way the fabric looks – and yet I’m still jealous she had them,” concludes McCurdy with an utterly impenetrable sense of social awareness and self-critique.
McCurdy’s ability to include herself as an inherently flawed character in her own narrative is a refreshing choice for a celebrity memoir. In an industry filled with ghostwriters and ego-projects, Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died pulls off the impossible. It’s complex, provocative and always written with the heartwrenching punchline in mind.
The book’s journey from a sold-out 2020 one-woman show to hardback may have been necessitated by the COVID-19 lockdowns, but the past performance history is still palpable. The book is alive, like an old friend meeting you for a catch-up coffee after 15 years apart. There are unbelievable anecdotes alongside humour so intimate it feels like a decade-old inside joke.
This is exactly how Jenette McCurdy’s story needed to be told. I’m Glad My Mom Died announces the arrival of a hot new voice in the memoir genre – a quick-witted talent adept at self-analysis, observation, and personal documentation. McCurdy is fearless and willing to expose the frailties of her character alongside those in power. Whether that’s her mother, the Nickelodeon ‘Creator’, or Ariana Grande, McCurdy sticks to her reality and shows exactly what could lead someone to say the words: “I’m glad my mom died”.
After two weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List, I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy is out now in the U.K. in audiobook and e-book format, with a hardback edition set for release Thursday, September 15th now available for pre-order.