Summary: (via Goodreads) Punk rock is in Emily Black’s blood. Her mother, Louisa, hit the road to follow the incendiary music scene when Emily was four months old and never came back. Now Emily’s all grown up with a punk band of her own, determined to find the tune that will bring her mother home. Because if Louisa really is following the music, shouldn’t it lead her right back to Emily?

Review: I wanna be your Joey Ramone is the debut novel of Stephanie Kuehnert. At its foundation, it is a coming of age story that highlights the aspects of life that help propel us toward adulthood and the things we must figure out before we can cross that bridge. For Emily, these things are music and her runaway mother, Luisa. She has a strong affinity for both and has decided that the best way to fill the void left by the departure of her mother is by immersing herself in all things punk rock.

With this in mind, Emily manages to create the quintessential pre-rock’n’roll-stardom adolescence for herself. She is brilliant but flawed by her youth, which compels her to try all sorts of destructive habits in abundance: sex, drugs, alcohol. Emily’s reckless lifestyle is shockingly addictive, believable and justifiable. Nobody we know grew up like this—or would have wanted to—yet Emily’s narrative makes it seem possible—attractive even! Kuehnert makes us want to be in Emily’s skin, feeling all the teenage angst, reliving those music-induced highs, and rocking it out with her band (She Laughs). Without having to hear a single note, we become the She Laugh’s first audience, and their first fans.

No matter what happens Emily constantly keeps one thing in mind—Luisa, her idol. In Emily’s head, Luisa is likened to a rock god: she is surrounded by mystery and myth, she is unreachable, and her life is guided solely by music. To help the reader understand more about Luisa, Kuehnert intercuts Emily’s first person narrative with brief third-person narrations describing Luisa’s life. This technique has the interesting effect of supplying information about Luisa while still keeping her estranged. In essence, Luisa’s true feelings are concealed and remain a mystery to us; much like her whole life is a mystery to Emily. But unlike Emily, the reader finds it impossible to idolize Luisa. Instead of living the music-driven life of Emily’s imagination, Luisa is nothing more than a hallow vagabond chased by the ghosts of her violent past. This leads her through her own run of reckless promiscuity and drug abuse, but youth can no longer be an excuse—not after 21 years on the run.

As the story concludes, a reflective look over the lives of Emily and Luisa shows two generations of women whose lives have been ravaged by events beyond their control. By creating such similarities in the lives for both her heroines, Kuehnert seems want to analyze the different healing powers of running away vs. running after one’s problems. Her conclusion is unclear as neither method seems perfectly ideal. What is clear is Kuehnert’s emphasis on the power of family and friends. Ultimately, it’s the longevity of her relationships that allow Emily to find the strength to let go of the past.

Lit Snit Verdict: A

Click here to read the review that inspired me to read this book.

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