I'll just get this out of the way. My actual mom really died. In October.
She received her terminal brain tumor diagnosis two years ago and lived a full and beautiful life for most of it until things took a bad turn during the last few months and it was hard. Of course it was hard. But it wasn't as hard for me as it was for Jenette McCurdy.
This book is a dazzling page turner. And I say this as person who (wrongly, I'm sure) scoffs at celebrity memoirs.
It is told from former child star (iCarley) Jenette McCurdy's perspective beginning around age 5 or 6. The writing is just enough- not overly wrought, not excessively terse, and changes as the book and McCurdy evolve. When McCurdy is 6 years old, the writing reflects her perspective as a young child who takes things at face value. The world is not a complex place- she lives to please her mother and doesn't judge her behavior or anyone else's. For example, when Jenette declares that pink is no longer her favorite color, Deb McCurdy (her mother) gets super upset and cries while driving the car saying (I paraphrase), "I thought that was our thing, that we both liked pink". McCurdy doesn't think, "seriously, this grown ass woman is crying because I have my own favorite color", instead she asserts that pink is really her favorite color to make her mom happy, and the scene ends. Jenette's favorite color is still pink, mom is happy again, no further questions. Face value.
As she gets older though, the writing changes and becomes more reflective. We get witty gems and insightful criticisms of situation and self that weren't available when told through young Jenette's eyes and book comes alive.
That's part of why I love her way of storytelling so much- it doesn't reveal everything at once because the insights, the self-discovery, and awareness weren't available to the author at once. It takes us on a journey from a child's experience (still well-written, no mistake) to a tortured young adult's experience and it keeps the pages turning along the way.
I've demurred from including anything plot-related because I don't want to spoil anything for you, but I've read memoirs by addicts, by people who've suffered devastating loss, by people who've lived on a dollar a day, and none of these have been so focused, so tightly written, and so uniquely devastating as this one.
In the end, a fully actualized woman, freer than she's ever been, sums up the relationship with her mother as a bolt of lightning strikes a tree- it's bright, it's quick, and it changes the whole entire thing implacably.
I read this book only a few weeks after my own mom died and somehow, it didn't make anything worse. My relationship with my mom wasn't perfect but it was nothing like Jenette and Debra's, thank everything.
There were moments of course- like when Debra calls Jenette's vagina a 'front butt' (I thought only my mom did that), when Debra's name was Debra (so was my mom's, but with an H- Deborah), or when the author goes by her nickname (Jenny- my name), that made this whole thing feel eerily biographical, but overall this is book isn't about losing a mother to brain tumors (what my Deborah also died of), it's about finding yourself.
A little girl who didn't realize she was being abused grows into a teenager barely holding on amid the demented worlds of child-stardom and her mother, who is an entire gravitational force all her own. When as a grown up, Jenny (weird) loses her mom to cancer, her evolution really begins. We see a young woman struggle/fail/struggle/fail/struggle/make progress toward recognizing her mother's abuse and forming an identity all her own. We get to experience her recovering from a myriad of trauma-induced maladaptations to eventually claim herself as her own and become the writer she always wanted to be but pretended not to want (to please her mother of course). As only Debra could put it (I paraphrase again)-writers have big watermelon butts and you want an actress's little peach butt. Boy if there was ever a reason on which to base a life choice...
I'm proud of Jenette for writing this book, it can't have been easy. I'm proud of her for calling it I'm Glad my Mom Died (my friend still won't read it because of the title), and I'm proud of her for telling the world what happened to her. This book may look like a scrumptious little morsel of celebrity scuttlebutt, but it's so much more. On the back, Amy Schumer blurbs "An important cultural document". When I first read that, I was like, okay thanks Amy, now I know this is hilarious trash. But after having read it, I think she actually meant it. This is an important cultural document and I'm a better Jenny for having read it.
Join us for book club November 19th at 5pm!