“It has a sting”—A Review of I’m Glad My Mom Died
I share Emily Dickinson’s little poem “Fame is a bee” with my students at the Alabama School of Fine Arts every year. Many of my students are gifted performers, so I’m always curious to see how they decipher Dickinson’s metaphor and answer the burning question: would you ever want to be famous?
Over my past three years at ASFA, very few kids have answered in the affirmative. Many have said they’d like to be known and respected in their fields, but not so well-known that they can’t live their lives. Others have said they’d like to be rich, but not famous.
My own child is a budding performer herself. A diva since birth, she recently began taking acting classes and is having an absolute blast with them. She loves using her imagination, playing dress-up, creating scenes, and inhabiting characters. Her only complaint about the half-day theatre camp she attended this summer was that they had to perform on a floor and not an actual stage. She doesn’t have a hint of stage fright, and she’s absolutely hilarious. I may be a bit biased in saying this, but she has the makings of a child star (or, at the very least, a viral TikTok).
Fame is a bee. It has a sting.
I first heard about I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy in a Facebook group called Bitchy Bookworms. The Bookworms were raving about the book, and while I was a bit taken aback by the title, I was intrigued. I love a good celebrity memoir, especially one that speaks truth to power.
While I missed the iCarly craze by about fifteen years, I was definitely a Nickelodeon kid. I faithfully watched SNICK every Saturday night, and my favorite show was All That. Skits like “Everyday French with Pierre Escargot” would have me laughing until tears rolled down my face. The show introduced me to sketch comedy and laid the groundwork for my teenaged obsession with Saturday Night Live. As an adult, I was thrilled when Kenan Thompson joined SNL. It felt like a natural progression.
When I first heard allegations about Dan Schneider’s behavior at Nickelodeon, who McCurdy only refers to as “The Creator,” I was crushed. How could someone who created shows that resonated so much with kids be such a monster to kids?
While McCurdy’s book contained many horrifying moments with her abusive mother, the scenes with “The Creator” gave me the most anxiety. McCurdy’s mother forced her into fame, abused her, allowed her no sense of autonomy or agency, and then served her to this predatory bully on a silver platter.
Jennette McCurdy never wanted to act. She just wanted to please her narcissistic mother and support her family. But even the kids who want to act don’t necessarily want to be famous. They want to learn and grow and use their imaginations. They want to dress up in cool costumes and use funny voices and make people laugh. They don’t want to be so famous that they can’t enjoy the perks of their success. They definitely don’t want to be exploited by the adults who are supposed to be nurturing and protecting them.
After her mother’s death, McCurdy had a long, bumpy road to recovery from the damage her mother inflicted. She retired from acting and embraced her passion for writing, which her mother had previously discouraged. After the success of her memoir, McCurdy landed a seven-figure deal for her debut novel.
Fame is a bee. It has a song.
I applaud McCurdy for turning her sting into a song that will resonate with so many. She tackles abuse, eating disorders, alcoholism, religious trauma, grief, and recovery with such frankness, vulnerability, and dark humor that listening to her audiobook felt like a conversation with a friend. Her story may very well lead others to speak out and seek help.
As for my own little star, she’ll have to learn to shine on a smaller stage. I’ll continue to support her passion as long as she’s passionate. But the world will have to wait a few years for her viral TikTok—if TikTok is even still a thing by then.