Book Review ~ I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert

Summary ~ “The Clash.  Social Distortion.  Dead Kennedy’s.  Patti Smith.  The Ramones.  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?”


Stephanie Kuehnert’s I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone was able to do what no other novel has done for me.  It took me to a place in my memory that I haven’t visited in a very long time.  The story is set in the musically historical time of the early to mid 90’s (including flashbacks to the 70’s and 80’s) and the music scene that erupted when Punk fell and Grunge raised it’s mighty guitar pick and rocked the country.  Unlike the main character, Emily Black, I was not a big fan of Punk music but when Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog (A hybrid band mixing Soundgarden and Pearl Jam members for a memorable album), Stone Temple Pilots and Alice In Chains swept the airwaves like a wild fire, not to be contained, I knew I would never be the same.

Emily Black grew up in Carlisle, Wisconsin.  A small, gossip filled town that is the last place this spirited teen wants to be.  Just like her mother before her, she longs for the open road that Rock ‘n Roll seductively offers.  Her mother left Emily and her devoted (best written father in a long while) and music loving dad to “follow the music” when Emily was just four months old.  This selfish act will haunt Emily for the rest of her life but it’s what Emily does with her life that makes for entertaining, moving and music filled reading.  Yes, I could hear the music as I read Kuehnert’s vivid descriptions of writing music and playing for pulsing, sweaty crowds in bars and clubs all over the country.  I found that listening to Nirvana, the Singles soundtrack, Pearl Jam’s Surfer Eddie Live album and one of my personal favorites, NIN (Nine Inch Nails) Pretty Hate Machine was imperative background music to read I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by. 

Though some flashbacks left me confused about where in Emily’s life I was, Kuehnert takes such care with character and plot development that it wasn’t too distracting.  Emily’s relationship with her father and her best friend Regan made for emotional reading and there were numerous points throughout the book when I had to wipe away my tears in order to see the pages.  The relationship between Emily and her best friend, Regan, was so realistic and true that at times I was brought back to the time between 1992 and 1995 and my best friend, Ellen (names were changed to protect the real person).  Ellen had a huge influence on my life musically.  She was music.  Her love of Rock ‘n’ Roll, musicians, lyrics and all the back stories that make up the gaps between songs on CD’s helped me develop my love and knowledge of music.  Ellen’s Honda Prelude was named Eddie after Eddie Vedder and her black dog was named Zeppelin.  We were together when we learned of Kurt Cobain’s suicide and we spent endless hours listening to music, discussing it, singing and soaking it in.  Emily is faced with a very scary situation regarding Regan’s health in I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone which reminded me of Ellen’s 19th birthday when she tried to kill herself.  Thank God she wasn’t successful.  It was more a plea for help and a cry for attention from her estranged father but it was a heartbreaking and terrifying time for me that I will never forget.  Like Emily, I loved my best friend so much and would have done and did do anything for her.  We have since lost touch but this book has brought back tons of fond memories of endless days spent together listening to music and being each other’s best friend during a strange and exciting time.

Emily and Regan have known each other since birth practically and that is because their mom’s Louisa and Molly were childhood best friends.  Their friendship begins to focus on music and the idea of starting a band when they enter high school.  Emily’s dad has been teaching her how to play the guitar since she was a toddler and she begins to realize that she is a pretty damn good guitarist.  She can also sing and write lyrics so with Regan on drums they just need a bass player.  Regan has been eyeing a boy at school who she knows is a musician and she wants for her boyfriend.  Tom becomes the glue that holds the band together and helps Emily create music and a sound that they find success with.  Kuehnert creates a world of underground music and the elements of a band that is believable, gritty and wonderful.  I managed a Ska band in college, just when the Punk Ska movement was getting huge attention in 1995-1996 and the sacrifices and rehearsal hours put into a band are monumental.  Yet another time in my life that this book brought to the fore front of my memory. 

The band, She Laughs, finds different levels of success but Emily”s mother always haunts her and she feels like everything she does is because of Louisa.  I liked the way that Emily’s life was a reflection at times of her mother’s life.  Sometimes the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree even when the daughter never knew her mother personally but only through stories, few pictures and the albums she had left behind all those years ago.

Emily’s story line is like the versus of a song and her mother’s, Louisa, story is the chorus, the backbone of the book that leads all other characters down the road of fate. I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone reads like a great album plays.  Full of songs that need each other to create an amazing effect on the whole.  Showing a progression but having a common sound or style like the characters that move through the story. 

I enjoyed the mental journey Kuehnert took me on with her debut novel and I look forward to seeing what she has up her sleeve for us in the future.  You can check out Stephanie’s web site HEREand her MySpace page HERE

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

6 thoughts on “Book Review ~ I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert

  1. “Reads like a great album plays”

    Very nice.

    The story sounds intriguing. Thanks for the review.

    Thanks Annie! Sometimes the words just appear on the screen and I wonder where they came from. That was one of those times.

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