Summary: 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 eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers. She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.
Jennette recounts her life 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, 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 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.
Genre: nonfiction, memoir
I was in high school when iCarly came out, so I knew very little about Jennette McCurdy before reading this memoir. I’m certainly not a non-fiction reader, and I generally find memoirs to be too dull for my liking. Admittedly, the shocking, uncomfortable title is what drew me into this book.
Jennette never dreamed of being an actress – it was her mother’s dream that she never got to fulfill, so she forced it upon her daughter. I’ve always been curious about the abuse that child actors endure, and it was horrifying to see how deeply and rapidly Jennette’s life spiraled. This book is not for the faint of heart. Jennette’s story depicts child abuse, disordered eating, terminal illness, hoarding, bulimia, gaslighting, narcissistic parents, alcohol abuse, and more.
I take a longer look at the words on her headstone. Brave, kind, loyal, sweet, loving, graceful, strong, thoughtful, funny, genuine, hopeful, playful, insightful, and on and on… Was she, though? Was she any of those things? The words make me angry. I can’t look at them any longer. Why do we romanticize the dead?
Why can’t we be honest about them?
It feels a little strange to be reviewing a memoir, knowing that the author actually went through everything she wrote about in the book, especially given the dark context. I obviously didn’t rate this five stars because of the content. Instead, I rated it highly because it’s possibly the most well-written memoir I’ve ever read. The book begins when Jennette is a child and follows her life into her 20s, and considering how much ground it covers, I found it extremely easy to follow along. The pacing made for a quick read, and there was so much of Jennette’s personality in her writing.
Despite that, I’m surprised by the amount of people I’ve heard calling this memoir funny or even hilarious. I feel like I read a completely different book than those people, because I didn’t laugh once. This book is so harrowing and depressing, and it left me with such a deep ache in my chest when I finally set it down. I commend Jennette for her vulnerability and honesty, for her strength in being able to write about and share everything she went through.
This book obviously heavily discusses Jennette’s unhealthy relationship with her mother, but she also isn’t afraid to talk about her unhealthy relationships with older men; binge drinking as a coping mechanism; or her eating disorders. She also shared quite a bit about the drama during her two biggest career points, but I thought that she did a good job of explaining how she felt about what happened to her during the show without it feeling like she was just airing dirty laundry of a beloved children’s network.
I also think it was especially interesting that she only referred to Dan Schneider by his first name once; the rest of the time, he’s referred to exclusively as “The Creator,” giving him an almost God-like complex in the Nickelodeon studio, which was probably how he was seen at the time. He was a powerful entity that could do whatever he pleased, and Jennette was stuck under his ruling thumb.
The middle school years are the years to stumble, fall, and tuck under the rug as soon as you’re done with them because you’ve already outgrown them by the time you’re fifteen. But not for me. I’m cemented in people’s minds as the person I was when I was a kid. A person I feel like I’ve far outgrown. But the world won’t let me outgrow it. The world won’t let me be anyone else.
I appreciated the honesty in Jennette’s therapy sessions as well. This was certainly not one of those books where someone goes to therapy and they’re magically fixed. Jennette dropped her therapist cold turkey because she was afraid of accepting the truth about her relationship with her mother and essentially started back at zero again. She made so much progress only to regress, which is common and real. There were so many points in this book that I found myself relating to, including the never-ending rollercoaster of trying to get better. If anything, this book showed that just because you’re a celebrity doesn’t mean you’re exempt from any form of your demons.