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Jennette McCurdy says she 'never expected' her memoir to connect with so many people

“I had no idea it would hit the way that it hit,” the former Nickelodeon star tells TODAY of her memoir, "I'm Glad My Mom Died."
Courtesy Brian Kimsley / Amazon

Shania Twain is the only person on earth who should be allowed to go anywhere near cheetah print. At least according to Jennette McCurdy in her new memoir “I’m Glad My Mom Died.”

The book is a fearlessly honest glimpse into McCurdy’s life and years as a child actor on the hit Nickelodeon show “iCarly.”

Released in August, “I’m Glad My Mom Died” shot to the top of the New York Times best seller list, instantly becoming one of the most buzzworthy books of the year; something McCurdy said she never saw coming.

“I’ve been truly overwhelmed in the best way with the response," McCurdy told TODAY.

With its unapologetic title, the memoir digs deep into McCurdy’s abusive childhood, the seedy underbelly of celebrity and those all too eager to take advantage of it.

'I'm Glad My Mom Died' by Jennette McCurdy

“Not a huge fan of animal print,” McCurdy tells an overbearing interior decorator near the end of the book. Despite McCurdy’s objection, the decorator insists on ordering $14,000 curtains for her Los Angeles home — in cheetah print.

“Liz is clearly used to working with clients who don’t mind dropping fifteen grand to block the sun,” McCurdy writes, “but I am not one of those clients.”

When she asks the decorator to return the curtains that she didn’t want in the first place, she’s told they’re nonrefundable.

In contrast to the memoir’s much darker revelations, including allegations of misconduct by a network heavyweight referred to only as “The Creator,” the cheetah curtains might seem trivial if not for being yet another wearying example of a lifetime of having been patently dismissed by people more interested in exploiting her than anything else.

At the top of the list? Her late mother, Debra McCurdy.

Raised in a Mormon family with three older brothers (Marcus, Dustin and Scott) and father, Mark, money was tight. Seeing her daughter as a meal ticket and vehicle for her own unfulfilled Hollywood ambitions, McCurdy’s mother arranged for 6-year-old McCurdy to audition for a Jell-O commercial.

“You want to be Mommy’s little actress?” McCurdy writes her mom asked her while painfully pinning butterfly clips into her hair for the audition.

She didn't.

But at her mother’s insistence, McCurdy accepted a steady stream of acting gigs, appearing on television shows like “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Law and Order: SUV” before scoring her breakout role as Sam Puckett alongside Miranda Cosgrove in “iCarly" at the age of 14.

In the memoir, McCurdy writes that her success did nothing to ease a disturbingly dysfunctional home life. If anything, it only applied more pressure to be the family breadwinner and maintain a child-like figure to appear thin on camera.

To “help,” stay thin for roles, her mother taught McCurdy the secret of “calorie restriction," subjecting her to weekly weigh-ins and body measurements beginning a years’-long struggle with anorexia and bulimia.

After “iCarly” ended in 2012, McCurdy was given her own spinoff series "Sam & Cat" on Nickelodeon, sharing top billing with up and coming actor-singer, Ariana Grande instead of the solo show "Just Puckett" she said she'd been promised by the network.

 Jennette McCurdy and Miranda Cosgrove in 2007.
Jennette McCurdy and Miranda Cosgrove in 2007.Alamy Stock Photo

"Maybe my life would be entirely different right now," McCurdy writes. "I fantasize about it being different."

Much like a Russian doll, admissions of abuse and disillusionment come out in the memoir, one after another, before ending with her mother’s death from cancer in 2013.

“I’m Glad My Mom Died,” begins with McCurdy sitting bedside with her dying mother and offering words she hopes will rouse her mother from a coma or, if nothing more, offer comfort: “Mommy. I am … so skinny right now. I’m finally down to eighty-nine pounds.”

For a book so dark, it’s richly entertaining and infused with McCurdy’s wry humor, something she says was intentional.

“I wanted it to be entertaining and I wanted it to be funny. And truly, I set out to write a good book,” McCurdy said. “The fact that it’s about my life really is secondary for me.”

"I set out to write a good book. The fact that it’s about my life really is secondary for me.”

And, clearly, it’s resonating with readers, many who have opened up on Goodreads and other book sites, sharing supportive comments about their own traumatic childhoods, one even offering to do group therapy together.

“I hoped it would connect with people,” McCurdy said. “I never expected to connect with this many people and as deeply. The deepness of the connection is especially meaningful.”

Given the memoir is so personal, revealing raw and intimate details of McCurdy’s life, it’s hard to not wonder if she had any misgivings about opening herself up to public scrutiny.

“I think vulnerability in real time can sometimes just be oversharing and excessive and self-indulgent and unnecessary. Strong words, I know, but I do believe it. So, by the time I chose to write about my personal life in a public-facing way, in a creative way, I did feel that I had done the personal work first," says McCurdy.

With 12 drafts of the of book penned before the final version went to print, McCurdy had plenty of time to address any doubts she might have had about the content and says that she put them all to rest outside of how one of her exes would feel after realizing he was in the book.

“I was like, ‘Oh shoot,’ he’s gonna read about himself.’ And then I felt a little moment of, 'Should I address this with him? Should I say, 'Hey, before you read the book, just so you know, you're in it,'" she said.

But if that was her only flicker of doubt, McCurdy said it was a good sign that she was ready.

Along with the published memoir, McCurdy also recorded an audiobook version of “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” a process that took four days and a lot of prep to help her get through it.

Each day she went into the studio, McCurdy said she made sure to wear comfortable clothes and brought various items of security with her including blankets and stuffed animals. “This is a lot of my life and history and personal experiences that I’m going to be literally narrating out and I wanted to feel as safe as I could throughout that process.”

But the recording sessions also proved to be cathartic, and she says that as wild as it is to imagine, she really did enjoy them.

“There’s something about my mom’s cadence, rhythm, that makes me laugh,” McCurdy said. While she voiced her mother during sessions, she’d realize how absurd what her mother was saying was and find herself stepping away from the mic to chuckle before continuing.

With the new book thrusting her back into the spotlight, McCurdy said that unlike her Nickelodeon days, where doing press interviews felt like “layers on layers of inauthenticity,” she’s now speaking with people who are asking thoughtful questions and because of that she’s able to share messaging that’s meaningful to her.

Courtesy Brian Kimsley

“It feels like a completely different experience," she said.

And through it all, McCurdy said she feels sturdier and more able to be herself than she might have otherwise had she not had the obstacles to overcome.

“After my mom’s death, at first, I felt like nothing. I felt completely hopeless and powerless and incompetent and incapable. And then, one step at a time, I got to a place where I thought, ‘Well, OK, I overcame that: what else do you got?’” McCurdy said.

“Then, of course, there were dozens of things that life threw at me. But I do think it’s led to more strength of character.”

"There were dozens of things that life threw at me. But I do think it’s led to more strength of character.”

Now, at 30, McCurdy said that through the help of a therapist, she’s learned how to set boundaries and while it’s still a matter of trial and error, she’s getting better at it. Because of that, she said, it’s helping her level of functioning, feeling of safety and overall well being.

She’s also developed what she calls her “Spidey” senses in detecting people who are only in it to take advantage of her and, as a result, has become a pretty good judge of character.

“What’s tricky about that is that, yes, it’s easy to be disappointed at times by people, but I think with time, I’ve gotten to this place where the people that are in my life now are literally worthy of my trust,” she said.

“They have humanity behind their eyes; I don’t have sharks around me. I have good people around me and it just feels so much better than past iterations, past phases, of my life.”

And the cheetah print curtains?

“What’s so funny is when I moved out of the place, I actually packed them up to move with me because I was like, ‘I can’t waste this much money. Like, I have to give them to somebody,” McCurdy said, laughing. “And anytime a friend came over to the apartment, I’d be like ‘Do you want these?’ And they’d be like ‘No, I don’t want them!'

“So, I got rid of them.”