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I'm Glad I Read "I'm Glad My Mom Died"

“Fame has put a wedge between Mom and me that I didn’t think was possible. She wanted this. And I wanted her to be happy. But now that I have it, I realize that she’s happy and I’m not. Her happiness came at the cost of mine. I feel robbed and exploited” (121).

Note: mentions of disordered eating behaviors such as calorie restriction, binging, and purging, as well as substance abuse. Reader discretion advised. 

If you’re anything like me, chances are you grew up on iCarly. I used to count down the days until Saturday morning when I could watch the goofy and irreverent Nickelodeon sitcom that captured the attention of young viewers across the country. I was enamored with the characters and would fantasize about having a viral web show of my own. Naturally, as kids are wont to do, I equated the lives of the characters with the lives of the person that played the part. But the new tell-all bestseller from actress and former iCarly star Jennette McCurdy reveals that not all that glitters is gold.

On the show, Jennette played Sam Puckett, the rude and reckless but lovable best friend of the buttoned-up Carly Shay. Her character was known for her hot temper and insatiable hunger, and for many of us, that was the only side we ever saw of Jennette McCurdy. However, in her book provocatively titled I’m Glad My Mom Died, she recounts the constant pressure she was under as a child actor from producers, directors, agents, the Church, mental illness, disordered eating, and especially her mother. 

Jennette’s mother dreamed of becoming an actress when she was a child, but her parents would not allow her. In order to rectify this childhood disappointment, Mom started sending her daughter to Hollywood auditions at just six years old to live vicariously through her. Jennette writes of her first audition: “Mom wants this more than anything, not me. This day was stressful and not fun, and if given the choice, I would choose to never do anything like it again” (14). And yet, her career was born.

The majority of Jennette’s young life was spent bouncing between various auditions and casting calls. Her mother’s biggest priority was Jennette’s Hollywood success, something she never asked for. "Mom" (Deborah) would do anything to give her daughter the edge over other auditioners, including putting her on an intensive calorie-restricted diet. Jennette recalls that when she started puberty, her mom suggested a daily 1000-calorie diet to keep her from developing. This pivotal moment in the memoir sets the stage for Jennette’s eating disorder, which continues to morph and resurface throughout her teens and young adulthood and serves as the principal force behind her life and decisions. The extremes Jennette took to keep thin are harrowing. It is some of the hardest content to read, but undoubtedly some of the most impactful. 

Calorie restriction was just one technique Deborah used to keep her daughter dependant and persuadable. Another technique was religion. Jennette grew up in a devout Mormon household, though her family only became regular churchgoers when Deborah was diagnosed with breast cancer when Jennette was only two. Believing that being a faithful servant would assure her divine salvation, Mom rediscovered her connection to The Latter Day Saints Church. Despite the fundamentally flawed messages Jennette received from the Church about sex, dating, faith, and servitude, Jennette loved going to church. The hour spent in service each week was her reprieve from the chaos of daily life. For better or worse, Jennette’s family stopped attending church when her career took off, leaving the young actress with no outlet for her anxiety. 

Jennette’s life changed forever when she booked the role that made her famous: iCarly. With the checks rolling in, her mom’s iron grasp on her life loosened. Jennette had more control than ever over what she ate, how she spent her time, and who she spent it with. This brief period of freedom ended abruptly when Deborah’s cancer returned. As aforementioned, Jennette’s mom suffered from debilitating breast cancer when her daughter was just two years old, but she miraculously recovered and remained cancer-free until Jennette reached adulthood. 

The return of her mother’s sickness was young Jennette’s biggest fear. In an early chapter, the author recounts that every year on her birthday, she would blow out the candles and wish for her mother to live another year. So much of her young life was spent trying to appease her mom. She learned early on to hold her tongue and anticipate her mother’s wishes to prevent a hysterical meltdown. This psychological manipulation was exacerbated by her mother’s sickness. Deborah used her terminal illness to guilt her daughter into continuing an unfulfilling career. To assuage her dying mother, Jennette succumbed to the manipulation. 

As the title of the book would suggest, Deborah eventually passed away from Stage 4 cancer, marring her daughter’s already fragile mental state. Jennette turned to substance abuse and disordered eating habits to numb the pain. Without her mother’s “help,” Jennette found she could no longer keep up with her calorie restriction and instead engaged in obsessive binges and purges multiple times daily to stay in control of her body. After reading about the chaos that shrouded Jennette’s early life, it stands to reason that she would rely on her eating disorder to maintain some sense of agency.

Jennette’s writing illustrates the agonizing effect her mother’s influence truly had, both before and after her passing. My heart broke for Jennette who was reeling out of control after having lost the only constant in her life, yet she manages to retain a sense of humor about her situation, no matter how dire. Throughout the memoir, the narration jumps between the mind of child Jennette and adult Jennette. This technique fully depicts the broad spectrum of complex emotions the author felt towards her mother; the child in her wanting desperately to see her mother as a perfect beacon of hope who could do no wrong, while the older Jennette fiercely tried to escape. It was not until years after her mother’s passing and after lots of therapy did Jennette finally make peace with her emotions concerning her mom.  

Reading I’m Glad My Mom Died was all at once heartbreaking, inspiring, disturbing, and amusing. As a former iCarly viewer, I was appalled to learn how the actress I loved so much was living off-camera. Although the book has received glowing critical reviews, and an impressive 4.6 stars on Goodreads, most of the reviews are written by older generations who may never have heard the name Jennette McCurdy before her memoir hit the shelves. It is vital that younger readers who grew up on Dan Schnieder’s Nickelodeon read about what was going on behind the scenes of their favorite shows. The book debunks the myths we chose to believe growing up about our favorite stars living at home just as they did on TV. It challenges misconceptions about the reality of child acting and illuminates the reality of the many children being manipulated by abusive parents, all while managing to stay engaging and humorous. I can say with near certainty that I’m Glad My Mom Died will be one of the best books you read this year. 

If you’re interested in reading I’m Glad My Mom Died, consider purchasing the book from Newtonville Books, Brookline Booksmith, Trident Booksellers, or any number of other local independent booksellers.

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MCAS '25, Communications. Probably thinking of Parks and Rec fan theories and counting down the days until camp as you are reading this.