Those interested in what life can be like for a child actor with an abusive parent.
In a nutshell:
Jennette McCurdy became famous as part of a hit Nickelodeon television series. Behind the scenes, she was doing everything she could to please her abusive, narcissistic mother.
Why I chose it:
I’ve seen it in so many shops, and it is a memoir read by the author – basically half of what I’ve been reading lately.
Damn. Content note for this book includes disordered eating, substance use disorder, physical abuse.
First, a note specific to the audio book – the way that McCurdy reads her writing is extremely deadpan and very quick. Basically the absolute opposite of Making a Scene (Constance Wu’s memoir I just read as an audio book last month). There’s only one moment where the author allows emotion to creep through, and it’s noticeable and shocking. I’m not sure if this was a production choice, or how she talks, but the book goes by so quickly that I almost get the feeling that she just wanted to get the reading over with. Not in a bad way – I don’t think she dislikes her own book – but so much of what she discussed is unpleasant, I’d imagine it’s not exactly fun to give voice to it after having already written and edited it.
Alright, this is an intense book. It’s about McCurdy’s life, having to navigate her mother’s abuse without fully realizing that it was, in fact abuse. It’s not a pleasant story. But it’s also not trauma porn, if that makes sense. Maybe it’s because of McCurdy’s matter-of-fact delivery, or because she’s a talented writer. The things she shares could have resulted in an extremely depressing book – and it is definitely dark – but it’s not hopeless? It’s also not … hopeful? It’s just someone sharing her story, realistically, with all the crap that was there.
I am a bit too old to have watched McCurdy on TV, but I have heard of the show she was on. It sounds like it was unpleasant a lot of the time, and that the producers (one in particular) were not there to look out for the kids acting on the show. There is one point in the book where she is essentially offered hush money to never discuss her experiences at Nickelodeon (and it’s not a small amount of money), but she declines, and I think damn, good for her. By sharing her experience, perhaps others will be spared some of what she went through.
The main focus of the book is McCurdy’s relationship with her mother, who is obsessed with McCurdy being a successful child actor. She home schools McCurdy (and her three brothers), and puts McCurdy in dance classes, acting classes. She’s basically the stereotype of a stage mother, and is deeply emotionally abusive as she basically puts all of her hopes and dreams and pressure on McCurdy, and McCurdy spends all of her time desperate to keep her mother happy. There’s a point where McCurdy starts to go through puberty, and her mother ‘helps’ her out by teaching her disordered eating. Like, intentionally. It’s so deeply fucked up. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Now, obviously the parent of every child actor isn’t going to be like McCurdy’s. But damn, I do wonder about what life is like for the kids who act. My grandmother was a studio teacher in Hollywood in the 60s and 70s, but she passed away when I was young so I didn’t get a chance to ever really ask her about what life was like for the kids she looked after. I can’t imagine it was great then. I know laws have been passed in California protecting the wages of child actors, and limiting their time on set and such, but I don’t know what can be done for the children who don’t really want to be there, or are only there because they are desperate to please their abusive parents.
I’m happy this book seems to be getting so much attention, and I hope that McCurdy is able to continue healing and finding work that she chooses to do, not work she is expected to do.
Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it: