The Jennette McCurdy Experience
Former Nickelodeon child star has a hit memoir with ‘I’m Glad My Mom Died’
Best known for her role on the Nickelodeon show iCarly, these days Jennette McCurdy tends to do one woman stand-up shows about her life as a child star. This material is the main inspiration for her bestselling memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died, and helps to explain the deliberately provocative title, since McCurdy doesn’t really express much joy about the death of her mom throughout the book. The closest we get to that is at the end, where McCurdy decides to stop grieving. By that point McCurdy believes, with some justification, that her mother has so thoroughly controlled her entire life up that enough is enough.
It’s no mystery why I’m Glad My Mom Died has been such a big bestseller throughout all of August. The book’s got a great title. Aesthetically, too, McCurdy effectively walks a fine line between edgy tell-all and serious memoir. It also helps that iCarly has a bewilderingly intense fandom to a degree McCurdy herself considers to be a bit absurd and difficult to believe. There are two four-hour iCarly documentaries on YouTube with seven million views between them. The aughts-era Nickelodeon kids’ show empire of Dan Schneider is a story in itself that’s creepy and bewildering in its sheer scope.
But you’re not going to find any of that in I’m Glad My Mom Died. There are no direct references to Schneider. The indirect ones that don’t use his name aren’t flattering, yet they’re also vague enough to avoid potential legal action. This is despite McCurdy noting that she was offered three hundred thousand dollars to sign a non-disclosure agreement on the matter, which she refused. McCurdy directly compares Schneider to her mother, implying he was abusive, yet makes no real judgments on the greater child labor system she was a part of. McCurdy describes her job as an actress as being a fairly miserable one that screwed up her normal adolescent development. Yet outside of a screen test involving bikinis, which McCurdy really did not feel comfortable wearing, she presents nothing about her working environment as especially exploitative.
Now, McCurdy’s mother on the other hand- she’s abusive by nearly definition imaginable, even if McCurdy herself kills a badly needed stint in therapy once the therapist so much as vaguely hints as much. According to McCurdy, her mother directly enabled her anorexia, assisting the pre-teen in dieting so that she could keep on taking roles younger than her actual age. McCurdy’s mother is the classic stage mom, attempting to vicariously live through her daughter the dream she was never allowed to have, to be an actress.
Therein lies both the ultimate appeal and the ultimate flaw of I’m Glad My Mom Died as a memoir. The story’s surprisingly well-worn, to the point there’s not even very much clearly identifying it as something that happened in the 21st century. The premise of iCarly, you might recall, is that these teenagers are making a web show. Yet McCurdy’s character is so sheltered she doesn’t even know what AOL Instant Messenger is until her co-star Miranda Cosgrove asks about it. Weirdly enough McCurdy doesn’t come off as sheltered so much as she does poor.
Even McCurdy’s Mormon background becomes important more for its later absence than for initially being all that awful, since she has no real friends or community in the church. Her early, abortive relationships are more typically sad and pathetic millennial generation stuff than anything uniquely awful. It’s just that McCurdy’s mom is always somewhere in the background shrieking at her daughter for being a slut (and also to help with refrigerator expenses) at any perceived transgression against moral purity. This takes on an amusing, yet ultimately unelaborated direction when McCurdy learns that her now dead mother apparently had a long-term sexual relationship with another man that no one ever explained to her during her lifetime.
Really, that’s the best overall description for I’m Glad My Mom Died. The story’s amusing, even relatable. It just doesn’t have very much depth. The significance is similar to the litany of shows McCurdy’s details in the earlier part of her career when she was doing background roles which graduated to guest spots. A lot of these shows were important cultural phenomena back in the aughts. Yet today we barely remember them. It’s hard to begrudge McCurdy for feeling like there just wasn’t much point to any of it, save for the financial security she earned. And McCurdy, mind you, was one of the successful ones.