Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno Garcia

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Coming of Age, Magical Realism


Silvia Moreno Garcia is an author that I very much enjoy reading and so I couldn’t wait to pick this one up.  As it happens I did take a little while to get into this but after that initial blip I found myself really liking it.  A coming of age tale, three friends unhappy at home and misfits at school, come together and find magic that they hope will change their lives.

This is a story of three teenagers, they may not fit in at school, their home lives are not perfect, but they have their friendship and once they discover the way to create magic through the use of music they believe their troubles will be a thing of the past.  Of course, what do they really desire?  To fit in, to catch the attention of their respective crushes, never of course realising that their tinkering will upset their own fine balance.

Signal to Noise is told in two alternating timelines.  Both take place in Mexico City.  In 1988 we have a teenage girl called Meche (Mercedes) who loves playing vinyl and making mixed tapes.  Her love of music is something she shares with her dad.  Unfortunately her parents are on rocky ground and her father is absent much of the time – only really returning because of his love for his daughter.  Meche also likes to sit and listen to her gran’s tales – are they tall tales or could she really perform magic?  Sebastian and Daniela are her almost constant companions, the three are definitely not the cool kids at school and of course they long to fit in.  Sebastian seems to have developed a crush on the hottest girl in the year and strangely enough Meche seems to have likewise formed similar feelings for her boyfriend – the hottest guy.  Strangely enough it’s immediately apparent that Meche and Sebastian are the sort of grumpy disillusioned teenagers who simply can’t see the wood for the trees.  Reading the two together their easy companionship immediately seemed to indicate something more was on the cards but they were both pushing in different directions, even whilst experiencing frustration and jealousy of each other.

Anyway, this is where the second timeline makes things more interesting. We shoot forward to 2009.  Meche left two decades ago but now returns for her estranged father’s funeral.  It now becomes obvious that things went horribly wrong somewhere along the line and the friends parted ways.  Meche hasn’t seen either of her friends during that period and isn’t keen to bump into them at this point so what exactly happened to split the friendship up – and why had Meche fallen out with her father?

Flipping back and forth between the two timelines we eventually uncover the picture of what drove everyone apart.

Initial thoughts.  This is very light on the fantasy aspects.  The trio of friends (through Meche) discover a way to create magic through the use of music.  This is very lightly touched upon and relies heavily on both the teenagers and the reader simply believing that magic is possible.  It’s magical realism at its most subtle really because much of what takes place could eventually be put down to happenchance or coincidence.

In terms of the characters.  Well, there’s a good dollop of teenage hormones and angst running through the story quite often making the characters behave in a way that makes you want to shake them.  Meche can be something of a super bossy boots not to mention vindictive and vengeful – but a lot of this is down to her age, the situations she is herself going through and her lack of understanding for the ramifications and consequences of her actions.  So, for me, even though she could be infuriating her character was also believable and this made it much easier to read.  Then of course we jump to the adult version of Meche and her friends – now, I’d like to say that they’ve become very sensible well measured people, and I think maybe Sebastian and Daniela have grown up a little, Meche however is still super touchy, stubborn, prickly and unapproachable.  Basically, she carries around a lot of anger and it’s nice to see some of that eventually peeling away.

Mexico is the setting for both storylines and, again, I would say that the author subtly weaves in details of the place to provide a flavour.  She doesn’t bash you over the head with all sorts of well known place names, etc, instead providing details primarily around food and customs, particularly in relation to the family mourning and arranging a funeral.

The writing is good, although I did struggle at the start of the story to really get on board and I think that has something to do with the pacing.  It wasn’t enough for me to stop reading (clearly) but it did slow me down a little so I would say be patient with the first 30%.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I’ve already mentioned a slight issue with pacing.  Likewise the fantasy elements are very light and the characters can be a little frustrating.  I also wouldn’t say that this is my favourite book by this author, it feels a little less polished than some of her later books. But, in spite of all that, I ended up engaging with the characters and enjoying the story much more than I first anticipated.

Overall, for me this had a sense of nostalgia.  It reminded me of a whole host of John Hughes films such as Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful and Weird Science where mixed up teenagers more often than not can’t see the wood for the trees and flounce around making everything into a ‘big’ thing.  There is a lot of mention of music from the 80s which I enjoyed although I wasn’t familiar with probably half the titles mentioned.  More than all that it ultimately has that ‘feel good’ factor.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publishers, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4 of 5 stars


2 Responses to “Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno Garcia”

  1. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    I like the idea of how the musical element is woven as part of the story, but I’m less sanguine about the “teenage angst” portion of it. Still, this is a Moreno-Garcia novel, so I might have to trust her on that… 😉
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. pagesandtea

    When I read The Beautiful Ones I found that to be a little bit lighter on the fantasy than I went in hoping for, so glad you’ve mentioned that in case I do decide to read this at some point.

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