Midway through the fourth chapter of her memoir, Things I Should Have Said, out this week, Jamie Lynn Spears drops a mission statement for the book. “I’m not here to debunk the falsehoods written about my family,” writes the 30-year-old former Nickelodeon star better known as Britney Spears’s kid sister. “I only want to confess my experiences and the complicated blessings of being part of the Spears family.”
Over 225 pages padded with extraneous details and strung-together childhood stories, this is more or less what she does. Britney fans hoping to read Jamie Lynn’s answer to the disturbing allegations Britney, 40, has made about her family will be disappointed, or perhaps furious. (The book currently has a one-star rating on Goodreads thanks to zealous Britney defenders.) Instead of revealing her thoughts about Britney’s struggles under the conservatorship that ruled her life for 13 years, Jamie Lynn focuses on differentiating herself from her sister and distancing herself from the rest of her family (who may or may not be responsible for the bulk of her sister’s woes).
It’s understandable that Jamie Lynn would want to write solely about her own experiences in the Spears family and in the wider entertainment world — it is her memoir, after all. But her story is unfortunately inextricable from her sister’s. As she writes in her book, her performing career began with a “lucky break” when she was an 11-year-old kid: executives at Nickelodeon just so happened to see footage of her performing for the crew on Britney’s tour bus and subsequently cast her on the variety show All That. (She also landed the role of the younger version of Britney in Crossroads the same year.) She went on to star in the Nickelodeon original Zoey 101, which, to hear her tell it, had everything to do with her undeniable talent and nothing to do with the fact that her sister was then the biggest pop star on the planet.
From this place of determined delusion, Jamie Lynn struggles to form a cohesive narrative of her life. The book runs back and forth through time and ignores key moments in the history of the Spears family. (Britney’s ex-husband Kevin Federline, for example, is introduced for the first time as the two are getting divorced.) She frequently glosses over controversial moments while spending an inordinate amount of time on disconnected anecdotes from her childhood. In a chapter focused on her experience on Zoey 101, she only briefly mentions the show’s disgraced creator, Dan Schneider, who left the network in 2018 after an investigation found he was verbally abusive on set. Instead, she zeroes in on a feud with one of her co-stars, Alexa Nikolas, claiming the actress spread rumors to the rest of the cast that she smelled bad and had lice. While this is certainly revealing of what it must be like to work on a sitcom with a bunch of other tweens, it’s probably not the juice readers are looking for when picking up Britney’s little sister’s book.
In another chapter, about her current Hollywood career (she has a supporting role on Netflix’s Sweet Magnolias), Jamie Lynn pads the story with a long, Wikipedia-esque description of the role of makeup artists, hair stylists, and wardrobe stylists on set. (“Don’t let anyone tell you that makeup is just a mask,” she writes. “A makeup artist is a true professional. Quite frankly, they are remarkable at using shading and light to maximize a person’s assets.”) Her prose is often stilted and impersonal, and it seems likely that the project was rushed to publication after Britney’s horrifying testimony about her conservatorship in court in June 2021. (Jamie Lynn writes in the introduction that she started working on the book “over a year ago.”)
While Jamie Lynn provides previously unknown details about traumas in her own life (her teen pregnancy; her daughter’s 2017 ATV accident), on the topic of her sister she is vague, withholding, and more than a little defensive. It is as if she knows the public is reading solely to get the inside story on Britney, and she is determined not to give it. On a personal level, her strategy makes sense. But as a result, the book does not. Jamie Lynn is willing to describe some of the red flags she witnessed as Britney’s fame grew, but she cannot seem to interrogate what they mean or what should have been done about them.
At various points in her narrative, she describes Britney’s behavior as “erratic” and claims she had “episodes” that the rest of the family tip-toed around. But she declines to elaborate, save for sharing a couple disjointed memories about her sister’s behavior leading up to her apparent breakdown in 2007. Shortly after Britney’s infamous Vegas wedding in 2004, Jamie Lynn writes that Britney returned to the family home in Louisiana acting “paranoid.”
“One time, she said to me, ‘Baby, I’m scared,’ and took a large knife from the kitchen, pulled me along to my room, and she locked us both inside,” she writes. “She put the knife in the bedside table drawer and simply repeated, ‘I’m scared.’ She needed me to sleep beside her.”
The story ends there, as if Jamie Lynn’s ghostwriter forgot to ask any follow up questions. What was Britney scared of? How did her parents react to this incident? What happened the next day? Jamie Lynn simply moves on to another unrelated memory about her brother Bryan getting engaged to her manager. (For the record, he seems to have had a difficult time growing up in the Spears family, too.)
By the time Jamie Lynn gets around to talking about her sister’s fight against the conservatorship, in the final two chapters of the book, she is incapable of focusing on anything besides how the media fallout has personally affected her. She writes that Britney’s statements about her family “allowed an onslaught of hate that put me and my family at risk…At no point did my sister lift the veil on what or who is truly responsible for her challenges.” But Jamie Lynn does not lift the veil, either. She claims that when the conservatorship was put in place in 2008, she was 17 and preoccupied with her pregnancy, and that later on she was “caught up” in her own life and took her parents’ word for it that Britney was fine. This is certainly an answer to the question, “Where was Jamie Lynn in all of this?” but it is not one that will satisfy dedicated followers of the conservatorship saga.
Things I Should Have Said is illuminating in one way: Jamie Lynn clearly states multiple times that her parents were ill-equipped to handle their daughters’ careers but continued to grift off of them anyway. She writes that for the majority of her life, her father Jamie was a “ruinous,” abusive alcoholic and that her mother Lynn was enabling, abusive, and motivated by money. (Jamie Lynn recalls one instance during her childhood when her mother hit her in the face with her purse and another when Britney offered to buy her mother a house if she divorced her father.) She says the trauma she endured as a result of her parents’ dysfunctional relationship led her to be diagnosed as an adult with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression.
Sadly, Jamie Lynn does not leave room in her book to consider how this upbringing may have affected her sister, or what it must have been like for her to be under the legal control of an unstable parent. Reading her story, it seems that Jamie Lynn has more in common with Britney than she is willing to admit.