Genre: Adult Memoir
Year Release: 2022
Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warnings: anorexia, bulimia, vomiting, child abuse, death of a parent, cancer, alcoholism, sexualization of minors
Jennette McCurdy is best known for playing Sam Puckett on the Nickelodeon show iCarly. I had not grown up watching the program, so what drew me to this memoir is its evocative title. And I found an incredibly frank and intense personal story within its pages.
Exploring the pain of and recovery from being raised by a narcissistic and abusive mother, McCurdy brings humor and frankness to a discussion on the aftermath of parenthood that often gets buried under the sentiment, “Do not speak ill of the dead.”
Content note: This review will mention specifics of the abuse.
This memoir left me choked up in places. I’m not going to go into the specifics of why I related to elements of this memoir as much as I did. The memoir is narrated by the author, which adds a layer of intimacy and frankness that adds to the reading experience. It’s uncomfortable. It’s unflinching. But there is also a kindness afforded to the child McCurdy that’s completely warranted, especially since she’s on her own healing journey and removed from the source of her trauma (her mother died in McCurdy’s early adulthood).
One of the aspects of this story that surprised me most is how Jennette McCurdy was raised Mormon, but the abuse leveraged by her mother had nothing to do with some of the narratives coming out of that community. I find it interesting that the three-hour service was a source of reprieve from the chaos of her home life. There was hoarding, there were other untreated OCD tendencies, antagonistic relationships between parents and grandparents, and McCurdy herself having a career that started at the age of six. McCurdy’s mother has her pre-pubescent daughter joining in on her anorexia, which later became bulimia. If vomiting is something that makes you uncomfortable, the descriptions are graphic and unfiltered, as are the emotional and mental duress that fuels the illness itself.
The trauma McCurdy experiences seems to also be intergenerational, adding yet another layer of heartbreak. As McCurdy seeks therapy for her bulimia, one of the pillars of recovery is identifying and managing the stressors in her life. The interactions with her grandmother gave me some sympathy for McCurdy’s mother, if only because grandmother had similar, if not exacerbated, narcissistic tendencies herself. It’s another element that resonated with me. It’s a melancholic comfort that someone with the kind of presence and platform as McCurdy went through something similar and is free to talk about it.
Given that I did not grow up with Nickelodeon live action children’s programming, I wasn’t digging for salacious details about her time with iCarly. The reason she’s able to speak of it, is that she turned down $300,000 of hush money. That being said, there isn’t much of it in this memoir, not beyond the necessary context for understanding McCurdy’s fraught mental health and her mother’s role as her manager. I cannot state enough how deeply personal the account of her career is.
Masterful, raw, and a triumph, the road to healing is uneven and ongoing, but if you’re one someone who’s had a difficult relationship with their mother and are hesitant to call it abusive, this book might make you feel less alone in those feelings.