It is a particularly exciting experience to read a popular book while it’s popular, and I often am either too stubborn to be swayed into reading mainstream books or too far behind on my TBR list to add a brand new one. That was not the case with Jennette McCurdy’s memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, which came out at the beginning of August and is already a smash hit. I was enthralled with the former Nickelodeon star’s book and devoured it cover to cover.
Maybe my childhood memories of watching McCurdy in iCarly fueled my ambitious reading speed, but the memoir itself stands strongly on its own apart from her child-stardom. Spanning the time she was just around 6 years old to her late twenties, McCurdy details the obsessive pressure her mother placed on her to be an actor. The fervor with which she wanted her daughter to be famous quickly developed in teaching her to “calorie restrict,” which horrifically evolved into a life-long string of eating disorders of which McCurdy will never completely be free. Her mother also exhibited many signs of undiagnosed mental illness, manifesting most profoundly as hoarding and obsessively restricting her own diet.
McCurdy’s memoir moves linearly, a narrative choice that punches home the notion that mental illness itself does not follow a linear path of recovery. So much of the book is about the years of her adolescence and early adulthood she spent sinking farther and farther into a hole of self-loathing and self-destruction. McCurdy’s life up until her mid-to-late twenties was riddled with addiction and bulimia, all the while smiling for Nickelodeon as if her life wasn’t crushing her day after day. And then her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The death of McCurdy’s abusive parent was unsettling and complex, a barrage of relief that she was free from the abuse but also sorrow that her mom was dead. Beyond this particularly warped brand of grief, she not only lost her mother but had to watch her slowly and viciously die. She posits the years of her life after her mother’s death almost as a renewal, as it was the first time in her life that she had full control of her body and her career.
Cathartic and achingly candid, McCurdy’s memoir is a solid portrait of survival and the moxie it requires to laugh at and in spite of your trauma. If you have been considering giving I’m Glad My Mom Died a read, I highly recommend it!
This title is also available as an eBook on Libby.
Anyone who has struggled with addiction or compulsion will likely appreciate Ink In Water and find it inspiring. Davis, described as a “young punk artist” by Library Journal, tells an autobiographical story about incredibly painful life experiences revolving around disordered eating, recovery, loss, and finally–helping others overcome similar disorders. Now a personal trainer, coach, author, and “body image advocate”, Davis’s memoir reveals how she first developed an eating disorder and got ensnared in the negative feedback loop that accompanies the psychology of self-harm.
The illustrations depicting Davis at the height (or really, rock-bottom) of her disorder show an emaciated, isolated individual who was starving herself to death. But by the end of the memoir, illustrations show a woman who has learned to cut herself some slack. In contrast, the woman in the final pages of the memoir is strong, determined, and no longer fears taking up space. To the contrary, Davis is interested in building herself up, through the practice of weight-lifting and strength training. Rather than shrinking and trying to make herself smaller, she embarks on a lifelong journey of recovery by focusing her mental and physical energy on becoming stronger.
While this graphic novel is largely about learning to love yourself, it also did a wonderful job of showing what a loving, supportive relationship can look like. I got a little teary when reading about how Davis’s partner essentially doubled-down on being loving and supportive through the hard times (rather than turning away from her when she was at her worst). When Davis experiences a particularly devastating loss of one of her best friends, mentors, and sponsors, her partner plans a trip to New York City to help her get out of her head. Their relationship beautifully demonstrates how loving partnerships allow for being openly vulnerable and loved and supported in spite of individual faults or shortcomings.
Check it out. I didn’t really even start regularly reading graphic novels until I picked up a work of graphic medicine. As someone who genuinely enjoys non-fiction (I know — crazy!), graphic memoirs have been a really nice change of pace. This book reminds me of how resilient we are, and that we can get better and come back even stronger after being in the grips of something that threatens to destroy us.