Being a novel about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone comes with an explicit content warning, as all good rock ‘n’ roll stories should. It is the tale of Emily Black, a messed up teenager from Carlisle that channels herself through her guitar.
Emily is one of those tortured artist types. When she was just a baby, her mother left her with her father to ‘follow the dream’ and chase the punk scene around the country. Now Emily is a teenager and her mother still has not returned. Although she won’t admit it, Emily is hurting and she’s angry – very angry. She is feisty, cold, incapable of loving, and charged with way too much self-confidence. She’s got a vile mouth and she’s one of those teenagers that get involved in adult things way too early. She lost her virginity at fourteen, she first got drunk at twelve, she smokes, takes drugs and sleeps around.
Emily’s life goal is to make music. She doesn’t have a backup plan because she doesn’t need one; she’s going to make it as a rock star and that’s all there is to it. Luckily her best friend is the best drummer Emily has ever met, and together they’re practically unstoppable. They recruit Tom – a kid from the school band – to play bass and before they know it they’ve got interstate gigs, and people are calling out their names on the street.
Sounds very glamorous and feel-good, right? Wrong. There is nothing feel-good about this novel. Its edgy, hard and I squirmed uncomfortably as I flipped through the pages. As painstaking as that was, I was unable to stop reading. Emily is such an emotionally closed character and her pain weighed heavily on my heart all the way through.
The novel also follows Louisa – Emily’s mother – on her journeys around the country. The victim of a horrible crime, Louisa runs far and wide so she doesn’t have to emotionally process what happened to her. I’m sure many readers will feel sorry for Louisa as they engage in her story, yet I found myself unable to do so. She’s weak, whiny, and cowardly. Her reasons for leaving her family behind are a little pathetic and completely unforgivable.
Kuehnert’s love for music bleeds from the pages of this book. Her knowledge is extensive and her passion is blindingly obvious. As far as debut novels go, this one is pretty spectacular. Kuehnert’s prose is strong and she manipulates the English language like Emily manipulates her guitar: perfectly and poetically. Her characters are vibrant, three dimensional, and complex; and they prove that even bad girls make for excellent literary reads. Relating to Emily was difficult, but empathising with her was not.
If you love music, if you like your books a little on the rusty, edgy side, if you enjoy reading about strong, angsty female characters, then I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is the novel for you. We give it two very big thumbs up here at yaReads and we can’t wait for whatever comes next from Stephanie Kuehnert.