Monday, December 21, 2015

Book Review: "Signal to Noise" by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I just love it when I find a book I've never heard of and know nothing about and it just totally takes me by surprise and wows me. Such is the case with Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Signal to Noise, a heartfelt, nostalgic look at music, love, family, a little magic, and the friendships of our youth which never quite leave us.

Mercedes ("Meche") is growing up in Mexico City in 1988. She's a smart girl and obsessed with music—her father is a DJ, so she thinks of everything in terms of different songs. She and her two best friends, Sebastian and Daniela, form their own little band of outcasts, no matter how hard they try to fit in, and escape their broken families (at least Meche and Sebastian's). And truly, in many ways they are just your average teenagers—Daniela has a crush on one of their teachers, while Sebastian and Meche are both infatuated with the most popular and attractive guy and girl in their class, and neither pays them much attention.

But Meche is determined to change the course of their lives so things go in their favor. When she discovers she can cast magic spells using particular songs, she enlists the help of her friends to help the spells hit their target. And while their success starts changing their lives slowly but surely, they realize there are many potential downsides—the intoxicating power that turns good intentions into bad, and the way that their friendships, particularly Meche and Sebastian's, are changing because of the magic.

"Meche and Sebastian were used to each other, comfortable in their proximity. They folded and kept their dreams in the same drawer, spun fantasies side by side, lived in the easy harmony of youth which did not know the need for tall walls and sturdy defenses."

More than 20 years later, Meche returns to Mexico City, which she fled after everything in her life changed. Her estranged father has died, and she reluctantly attends his funeral, and once again encounters both Sebastian and Daniela. So much was left unsaid back then, so many feelings were unexpressed, except the resentment that each of them feels, particularly Meche. As Meche deals with all of her damaged relationships, she turns to music again, and wonders if it will help her coast through the tumultuous times the way it used to, or if she will have to confront all of the emotions she has bottled up for so long.

It's amazing how relationships can turn on a simple act, a simple misunderstanding, a simple word said in anger. This is even truer in adolescence, as the stress of friendships and relationships is compounded by the usual teenage angst. Signal to Noise explores the delicate yet fiery nature of these relationships, as well as the hurts that our family can cause us as well. Betrayals are never taken lightly, especially when they come from those we're closest to.

Being a huge music fanatic for most of my life, I easily identified with how music shaped Meche's life. And I remember the intensity of the friendships of my teenage years, and how utterly awful betrayal—real or imagined—felt. Moreno-Garcia has captured this time in life, these emotions, these passions so vividly, and while the thread of magic in the plot is a little fantastic, it doesn't detract from the story. So much in our life can hinge on the things that are and aren't said, and this book mines that vein very effectively.

I'd like to thank Amanda Nelson of Book Riot, who included this book on her list of 13 of the best books of 2015 you may have missed. I'm so glad I found this book, and hope others pick it up, because I'd love to discuss it with you!

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