Man, we should gather to talk just about the title of this book.
I read the memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jeanette McCurdy last week and I can’t stop thinking about it, for a lot of reasons. And I think this is a good book to talk about. However, what I want to have about this book is a conversation and not necessarily a book club about it. So can we talk about it?
About the Book:
From the Book Description: Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.
In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.
Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.
As I reading this book, I thought it felt and sounded a whole lot like Educated by Tara Westover. If you haven’t read that book yet, I highly suggest you do so. Both Jeannette McCurdy and Tara Westover are raised by religiously fundamental parents (Mormons, in both cases). And their stories are full of abuses and manipulations, but end with each of them seeking freedom and self-actualization. They are troubling to read, but ultimately celebrations of gaining self-awareness and independence.
Some Thoughts for Conversation
1) One of the most initially provocative things about this book is the title. How did the title fall for you? Did it make you want to read it or stay away from it?
I’ll be honest and say, I understand the title, but I don’t like saying it out loud. I told one of my kids what I was reading and they visibly reacted to it. It’s kinda cruel, but warranted.
2) This book is a memoir of Jeannette’s life as a child actress, at the insistence of her mother, for whom it was her dream. What are the limits and boundaries of a parent’s wishes for their child and the child’s wishes for themselves? How can a child be given voice in manipulative/abusive situations like this? Is there any way?
3) One of the most important parts of this book, I think, is the depiction of anorexia, bulimia, and other mental/physical health disorders, coupled with various addictions. Jeannette is frank in her conversation about these things, writing with honesty and her then-perspective as a child. What did you think about these aspects of the book?
4) Ultimately, one thing I wonder when I read a book like this is: how can it be useful for conversation, growing in compassion, and camaraderie WITHOUT us being gossips about the hardships in another person’s life. It is VERY easy to sit with a group and “discuss” how horrible the mother was, to talk about the conditions, diseases, and addictions as a checklist of the cost of being famous. But does that conversation profit? So how can we discuss this book in a way that helps us grow in compassion AND take the parts of our discussion into our lives to help and serve those around us?
What about your reactions?
Did you read this book? What did you think? Do you have a way to talk about it that isn’t rude, unkind, gossip-y, or inflammatory?
I love celebrity memoirs, because often, though not always, I find that they struggle with life in similar ways other normal people do–only with more money and more pressure. Jobs, families, mental health, physical health, relationships: all of it is a challenge for all people. And we can learn from each other, the rich and the famous alongside the significantly-not-rich and not-at-all-famous.
I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jeannette McCurdy. Are there other memoirs that you would suggest?
Looking for a great book club book?
Check out The Unfortunate Life of Genevieve Ryder, my debut novel. In it, 22-year old Gen Ryder finds herself pregnant and unmarried. While it’s not a scandal these days, it sure was in the Midwest in 1946.