What happens when three teenagers realize that they can cast spells by playing the right records?
This is the premise behind Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Signal to Noise, but it’s more than this, too. Set in Mexico City, it follows the lives of Mercedes “Meche” and her friends Sebastian and Daniela as they navigate being outcast highschoolers in 1988, and Meche as she returns home in 2009 to pack up the belongings of her deceased father, who she hasn’t spoken to in years.
The novel isn’t just about teenagers doing magic. That’s just the catalyst. It’s also about friendship, family, and love. It’s about being young and making mistakes. Also about being old and making mistakes. It’s about being fed up with life and wanting more, and also about not realizing that what you’ve been searching for has been in front of you all along.
I read the book over a weekend, starting to cry halfway through and rarely stopping until it ended. I wasn’t a teen in the 80s but it felt as if I were. It helped that Mexico City as described in the novel felt a little bit like Manila (Hello, Spanish colonizers who were really from Mexico).
It made me feel nostalgia for a time that I was too young to fully participate in. I did pick up some interesting artists to listen to, though. That’s another thing: the songs and artists peppered throughout the book gives it its own soundtrack. Thalia is mentioned, though not in a positive light (sorry, Marimar fans).
Meche is a flawed protagonist, in the same way that we are all flawed beings. No one in the novel is a saint or a devil, but everyone is human. It’s the kind of book you pick up thinking that it’s one thing, only to realize, happily, that it encompasses more than you thought. Easily one of the most affecting books I’ve read this year, and possibly my favorite.
The Canadian-Mexican author just released a new novel called Mexica Gothic, which I know I’ll be reading as soon as I can.