A raw, edgy, emotional novel about growing up punk and living to tell.
The Clash. Social Distortion. Dead Kennedys. 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?
Grade: A+ x infinity
(Thank you to Erica and Stephanie for the book!)
Just get the book.
It’s no secret I was unimpressed with the other MTV Books novel I read, the infamous Oh My Goth by Gena Showalter. I’ve avoided this Simon and Schuster imprint ever since, partially because I bear an intense dislike (for the avoidance of a better term) the channel and partially because some of the other titles didn’t appeal to my stranger-than-fiction preferences. Theoretically, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the crap the once-great channel now is reaches uncharted levels of mediocrity and, in all honesty, it even scares me a little.
Anyway, so when I received this book, I was all over the place—expectant, hesitant, not to mention sickened by the prospect of reading what could another superficial, MTV-the-channel take on the "alternative" crowd (punk, goth, etc.), à la Oh My Goth. Let’s just say, if things had swung that way, well, this blog would’ve tsunami’d over the Earth. As an appetizer, of course. My sarcasm is a three- sometimes four-course feast.
Held my breath throughout the entire book. Let it out gradually as more pages were flipped. By the end, my mouth was sucked in (resembling my state of mind as I read, now that I think about it), out of breath, and I was breathless.
This book was that good.
Now for the interminable, in-depth Reviewer X analysis that is bound to bore everyone to tears:
Read the summary. Now, erase it from your mind. It makes this sound like a lighthearted novel. That’s the wrong assumption to take to heart when you crack this book open. The blackest kind of incorrect.
The beginning of this novel is told in fragmented passages, in which the reader learns the roots of protagonist Emily Black’s punk rock nature. The first chapter, in particular, is particularly fleshy and descriptive and it sets up for a lot of what happens later on in the novel. It’s set in the summer before freshman year of high school, when Emily sheds her virginity and sets forth the notion that she will have her own set of groupies for the band-in-theory she and her best friend, Regan Parker, are in. It takes a year of following the usual regimen of watching a show at River’s Edge—the show house of nearby small towns for underground punk rock bands—and sleeping with band members of the best-performance band on a given night for her to realize, through an asshole who calls her a slut, that what she’s doing isn’t making a statement, it’s making a fool out of herself.
That’s when she decides, alongside Regan, to make up a real band, with real songs. She and Regan also take a vow of celibacy from there on out. It’s not until October—Halloween, specifically—that they meet the third member of She Laughs, as they astutely named their band, Tom. Regan and Tom begin a thing (Regan’s not sleeping around, or even sleeping with him in the beginning, so it’s technically not a breach of their pact), but Emily keeps focused on the music, on the soul of their band, wagering that if she can be good enough, she can find the mother she lost to punk rock when she was just a helpless infant, the same mother she vocally admitted to needing the night she was called a slut and the night she realized she needed to act in a band.
All of this occurs within a good 90 pages or so. There is a total of 340, and with such a wide-reaching net of events that had happened up to this point, I couldn’t see how the author could draw this novel out almost four times this. But she did, and this is where you realize this isn’t just an idiotic, nothing-to-give tale of a girl who creates a band and finds her mother. This isn’t simply a YA novel—this is a crossover epic about the flawed-and-true-to-life, tough-as-hell Emily Black.
Interspersed through Emily’s first person narrative are some scattered third-person accounts of Louisa, Emily’s disappeared mother, whereabouts throughout the time Emily was growing up. This allows for the synchronized development of two women who share the deepest of ties but only knew each other very briefly and, all things considered, very insignificantly. It allowed for a vivid portrait of how two strangers can live in function to one another. More importantly, it allowed for some kick-ass mother-daughter dynamics, unique to this book alone.
Every aspect of this book is flawless, beginning with the writing and ending with the ending. Characters were amazingly developed through rich writing and masterful technique. The plot was sound, strong and solid—it was well-thought out, edgy to the core, but universal. What I loved about this is that all the buildup throughout the entire thing wasn’t for nothing—we get a powerful, bittersweet resolution that surely sets this book apart from the YA masses.
From the very first page, the existence and the importance of music to these characters’ lives is made obvious. Punk rock is what entwines, connects and shatters the bonds between mothers and daughters, girls and their self-worth, friends, lovers, and, more than anything, fate. Stephanie Kuehnert created an idyllic mixture of punk and music, making this brilliant debut accessible not only to punk rock lovers, but also to music and literary fanatics everywhere.
Well done, Stephanie.