If you are boo-booing this book just because of its title…kindly fck off. It is intentionally provocative and I am here for it. To place ‘the mother’ figure on a pedestal is ultimately detrimental to mothers since by idealizing them we cease to see them as real flawed human beings.
I’m Glad My Mom Died is a brutally honest memoir recounting Jennette McCurdy’s abusive relationship with her narcissistic mother, her disturbing experiences as a child actor and the unsettling realities of the entertainment industry, and her long battle with various eating disorders and self-destructive behaviors. I won’t lie, there were many scenes and passages that were very triggering but these never came across as gratuitous or sensationalistic. This is very much thanks to McCurdy’s clear-cut prose, which renders things with clarity and avoids sentimental and moralistic pitfalls. McCurdy’s unadorned style really reflects her younger perspective, as she details the psychological, verbal, and emotional abuse she experienced with a child’s ‘limited’ understanding of those things. As a child McCurdy was unable to identify or articulate the myriad of ways in which she was being abused by the adults around her, specifically her mother, and McCurdy remains faithful to her child’s pov. This is a tricky stylistic choice as I have come across memoirs where I found this re-identification with a younger version of yourself to be gimmicky, contrived, and not at all convincing (like when 30yr-olds actors play teens). Here instead it felt very authentic and effective as it brings home a child’s limited understanding of the abuse they are experiencing (that it wouldn’t occur to them to call it as such, that for them this is the ‘norm’, that they are somehow at fault).
Growing up with a narcissist parent (although i must point out that my parent was more of the child-like-emotionally-immature variety) can truly warp your view of the world and your self-perception. Rather than looking back to the past with an adult understanding of this, McCurdy drops us right into the thick of things, so that it felt less like an act of retrospection than a reliving of her childhood.
McCurdy was raised in a Mormon family and was homeschooled by her mother Debra, who is prone to fits of rage and hysteria (i use this word in a non-gender-specific way).
We witness how controlling and manipulative Debra is, specifically with her daughter. From horrific violations of privacy—Debra carries out body inspections and insists on showering McCurdy well into her late teens—to food policing—instilling and later on enabling McCurdy’s eating disorder—Debra constantly infantilizes and guilt-trips her daughter (using her cancer to win arguments or other people’s sympathy). To placate Debra’s volatility McCurdy would always acquiesce, doing whatever her mother demanded of her in order to please her. We see that this was how Debra is able to push McCurdy into a child acting career, placing her in numerous objectionable situations and putting her under an undue amount of stress by making her the ‘breadwinner’ of the family. As the years go by we see just how deeply this abuse is affecting McCurdy. Her eating disorder soon dominates her life, exacerbating her self-loathing. When McCurdy eventually hits the ‘jackpot’ with i-Carly her fame doesn’t appease Debra, who always demands more of her daughter. We learn more about the entertainment industry, in particular how it exploits children. From the unsafe working environments to the relentless work schedules (interviews, promos, etc.) and the casting process…McCurdy peels the curtain and allows us an unsavory view of what goes on behind the scenes of children shows. McCurdy details the abusive behavior of ‘the Creator’, the director of i-Carly, on and off set as well as the overwhelming realities of being a public figure at such a young age.
As her abusive relationship with Debra contaminates every aspect of her life, McCurdy, who has yet to reconcile herself with the fcked up nature of her mother’s parenting, turns to her eating disorder as a source of (misplaced) ‘comfort’. As her years of disordered eating begin to take a toll on her, McCurdy eventually turns to alcohol and becomes involved in some rather toxic romantic/sexual relationships (one of whom was quite a bit older…schifo). Debra’s cancer eventually leads to her being hospitalized yet again and eventually to her death. After her latest show is shut-down due to the Creator’s behavior, a grieving and confused McCurdy distances herself from the entertainment industry. In the subsequent years, McCurdy seeks professional help, which ultimately results in her gaining a new understanding of Debra (that she wasn’t ‘merely’ overbearing).
McCurdy is unsparing in detailing her various eds. Much of what she wrote about her warped relationship with food and her body (she wants to prevent her body from hitting puberty to appease her mother) was truly hard to read about. This is not only because she is brutally frank, but because I had an ed (i’m afraid that i am of the belief that eds, like most addictions really, never really ‘go away’). So yes. I had a hard time with a lot of the content of this book. Thankfully, because McCurdy’s writing is very matter-of-fact I was able to push through my discomfort but if you also have experiences with eds and you are still in a vulnerable place, I recommend you put this memoir on the back burner.
Like I said earlier, I appreciated how nonjudgmental and unsentimental McCurdy is. She doesn’t vilify her mother, even if she would have every right to do so, nor does she take the opportunity to blame other family members (i did question how aware mccurdy’s dad was of Debra’s emotional incest: i know narcissistic parents can be quite covert and that they usually tend to parent their children differently but i still wanted to know more about his role in all of this).
I know I am making it sound like a bleak-fest, and, well, that’s because it is in fact a depressing read. That title and the cover belie the memoir’s sobering tone. McCurdy does now and again lighten things up, by giving page-time to her friendship with Miranda Cosgrove, her i-Carly co-star, and later on, her mordant humor injects much-needed levity into her experiences.
I’m Glad My Mom Died was truly a heart-wrenching read. McCurdy’s voice was as compelling as it was perceptive, and I appreciated just how candid she is. She doesn’t portray herself as flawless, nor is she seeking our pity. Hopefully, the people who read this will be able to empathize with her, without focusing only on the ‘juicy’ bits involving her acting career (i have already come across several articles misrepresenting McCurdy’s words and pitying her against Grande…can we as a society move past this need to pit women against each other?).
Within this memoir, McCurdy presents us with hard-hitting depictions of abuse, trauma, grief, and eating disorders. My heart really went out to her and I found her voice to be truly captivating. I won’t forget about this memoir any time soon, and I look forward to reading or seeing what McCurdy will do in the future as she is a truly talented writer.
If you happen to be a fans of memoirs such as
Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart, T Kira Madden’s Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, & Lily Allen’s My Thoughts Exactly, chances are I’m Glad My Mom Died will be right up your sleeve so do check it out.
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
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