Sunday, September 3, 2023

Recent reading: "I'm Glad My Mom Died"

 I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy 
I couldn't have told you who Jennette McCurdy was before I heard about this book (me not being of the Nickelodeon generation) and if you'd tried to explain, I would have written her off as the kind of precocious, not particularly talented child actors that populate Nick and Disney shows. But having read this book, I now know that couldn't be further from the truth. She is nothing if not deeply introspective.

I can't vouch for her acting, but she was a popular and successful child actor, so she must have had something going for her. Early on she booked shows including CSI, Law & Order SVU, Medium, Strong Medicine, Judging Amy, Malcolm in the Middle, and the feature Hollywood Homicide, which starred Harrison Ford. But her career apparently went into the stratosphere when she was cast as Sam Puckett in Nickelodeon's iCarly, billed second to Miranda Cosgrove as the title character. 

Unfortunately for Jennette, she also had the proverbial stage mother from hell. Debra McCurdy had acting aspirations of her own when she was younger, but was prevented from pursuing them by her parents. She pushed the then six-year-old Jennette into acting because it was her dream, not her daughter's. 
There were other issues. Debra McCurdy had been diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer when Jennette, the only girl and youngest of four children, was only two years old. Debra went through chemo, radiation, mastectomy, and a bone marrow transplant before going into remission, and the agonizing possibility of a recurrence was a shadow that hung over the whole family for years. Add in constant money troubles and a loveless marriage between Debra and Mark McCurdy, and you have the basic dysfunctional family that wreaks havoc on a young child.

Jennette's relationship with her mother and her mother's health issues turned her into a people-pleaser even as a young child, and the person she wanted to please the most was Mommy. Regardless of how Jennette herself felt about her acting career and everything that went with it, she went along with everything she was subjected to in spite of the fact that she had zero enthusiasm for acting. When she booked jobs and worked her way up the ladder, it helped with the family's financial situation and made Mommy happy. One day, on the way home from an audition, Jennette blurted out that she didn't want to act anymore. Her mother's response was to burst into tears until Jennette backpedaled on the request. As Jennette observed, she wasn't the only one in the family who could cry on cue.

As Jennette matured (death for a child actor, and something she fought) her mother encouraged her to "calorie count" which led to anorexia, and as the years went on and Debra's health finally failed, would become bulemia and an unhealthy reliance on alcohol. Factor in some warped relationships (fueled by Mommy's disgust with men) and the result was a frustrated child actor with unhealthy habits that threatened to destroy her. Fortunately, today Jennette seems to have finally recovered from her demons while officially retiring from the acting career she never wanted.

This book is a great study of what child actors go through, and is also a fascinating study on how unhealthy (Mommy) and disinterested (Daddy) parents can affect a child. That Jennette, only in her twenties, was able to recognize her dysfunction and do something about it, represents a triumph over her damaging upbringing. As her grandfather once commented on, no child should carry the burden of supporting their family.

I'm not sure what she means by the book's title. Throughout her life Jennette lived to please her mother, and Debra's death shattered her. It was only later that she seemed to figure out how so much of what she was subjected to growing up was not only wrong, but seriously twisted. Whatever her reasons, the best part of this is that in spite of everything she's gone through, Jennette seems to have finally recognized what her mother did to her, and also seems to have dealt with and moved on from it. At least I hope so.

Note: I had the audiobook version of this, read by the author (always interesting to me) that I listened to when I was driving back and forth from L.A. to San Diego for this year's Bouchercon, a total disaster that the less said about, the better. We all have our disappointments, maybe this helped me sympathize with Jennette more than if I'd just read the book. That's a whole other story I don't even want to think about, so kudos to Jennette for facing the kind of professional and life disappointments that I'd rather not deal with right now. (Until I blogged about it later in the day.)

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