Jennette McCurdy’s ‘I’m Glad My Mom Died’ is a harrowing memoir that confidently confronts taboo mental health topics

For nearly 25 years, Jennette McCurdy was best known as a breakthrough Nickelodeon child star and country musician who faded into the background after a successful childhood career. To millions of outside observers, she might have seemed unbelievably lucky, living a technicolor dream of fame, fortune and talent.

This couldn’t be further from the heartless truth. The 31-year-old writer/director’s 2022 memoir “I’m Glad My Mom Died” reveals a childhood and early adulthood akin to a living hell, fraught with physical and emotional torture. 

Through blunt, detached diction thinly masking deep emotional pain, Jennette describes her young life in the constant shadow of her abusive mother Debra, who tried to take total control of her mind and body and caused a constant struggle with distorted body image, disordered eating and toxic relationship dynamics.

For as long as Jennette can remember, fear loomed over the McCurdy household. Her father was frequently absent and assaulted by her mother who was in remission for stage 4 cancer, which she constantly weaponized against her daughter. Every year, Jennette’s terrified birthday wish was “That Mom [would] stay alive another year”. Debra took advantage of Jennette’s fearful maternal bond to push her daughter toward child acting.

Acting was never Jennette’s passion; it was her mother’s. “I want to give you the life I never had,” Debra told her six-year-old daughter while innocently clipping her hair. Living to fulfill her mother’s wishes, Jennette agreed to devote herself to the often grueling art of the stage at a young age, slowly but surely landing roles in California production studios.

Because she was a child star, Debra didn’t want Jennette to grow up. She constantly reminded her daughter of this worry; Jennette recounts that Debra “often weeps  and holds  me really tight and says  she just want[ed] me to stay small and young.” These emotionally manipulative laments led Jennette to become wracked with guilt over her own puberty.

When Jennette expressed her desire to “stay young” to Debra, glee spread across her face, and her mother revealed an insidious strategy of “calorie restriction” – teaching anorexia, the deadliest mental disorder. Led on by a mother engaging in the same behavior, Jennette was indoctrinated into an eating disorder, purposefully withering her body to stunt her growth.

Jennette goes on to describe being subjected to sexual abuse on and off set. Dan Schneider, creator of the Nickelodeon shows for which Jennette performed, openly lusted for her in mandatory dinner meetings. 

In addition to constantly scrutinizing Jennette’s dying body, Debra insisted on showering her and performing examinations on her genitals until she turned 18. So intensely horrified and traumatized by these assaults, Jennette went completely numb whenever she heard her mother walking toward the bathroom door, dissociating from a reality too painful to be present in.

When she broke from acting to tour her country album, the 18-year-old encountered her first love and began binge eating. Debra’s cancer returned and she wanted Jennette to be a singer and forced her on tour. Jennette obliged, unexpectedly using the tour’s freedom to rebel against her mom’s dogmatic rule by starting a relationship with tour guitarist Lucas, and allowing her body to nourish itself. Despite much-needed nutrition, Jennette describes a crippling sense of guilt from disobeying her mom’s disordered restriction rules. 

Spoiler alert – Jennette’s mother dies.

The very night the woman she gave her life to succumbed to cancer, Jennette began a downward spiral into bulimia and alcoholism, throwing up almost everything she ate and drank. “I [had] no idea how to go about life without doing it in the shadow of my mother,” she explains, stumbling out of control in a fading haze until her boyfriend Steven Grayhm, an assistant director she met on a Netflix set, forced her to seek therapy. 

In a cushioned chair across from her therapist, Jennette finally understood she was a victim of abuse, a realization so painful her deadpan narration in the memoir’s audiobook version is interrupted by a heart-wrenching sigh revealing decades of deep pain.

Though she was initially resistant to recovery, Jennette slowly realized she would die without it. She broke up with Steven because they were enabling each other’s self-destructive vices and  sought out a new eating disorder therapist that gave her the help she needed. This therapist encouraged Jennette to journal her thoughts down – a transformative experience that revived her true love of writing, which her mom had prevented her from pursuing. “One million percent, writing has helped me establish my identity,” she told Vogue in 2022 regarding the freedom writing has given her, “be in touch with myself; heal, grow.” 

McCurdy’s darkly comedic descriptions of intensely traumatic struggles with eating disorders and familial abuse are more than just a heartbreaking read; they’re refreshingly open advocacy for recovery in a modern age of rising eating disorder rates.

 ​A 2022 study published by Current Opinion in Psychiatry revealed that nearly 18% of young women and 3% of young men in Western countries have met criteria for eating disorder diagnoses.

Jennette’s message is both brilliantly simple and extremely necessary – you are seen, you are heard and you are worth it. The memoir’s vulnerable discussion of eating disorders, abuse,and the damages of each invites those currently suffering from either to express their pain and seek support, and those who have never experienced an eating disorder or domestic abuse to understand and empathize with these formative, traumatic experiences.

A #1 New York Times Bestseller, Jennette McCurdy’s “I’m Glad My Mom Died” is an open, smash-hit tragicomic memoir that may well be the most important book you read this year.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, don’t be afraid to seek help for yourself or others. Body image group counseling filled with people who would love to help you is available on campus via University Health Services, and the National Alliance for Eating Disorders (NEDA) hotline can be accessed from 7:00 AM – 5:00 PM MST, Monday through Friday.

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