Signal to Noise
Release Date: February 10, 2015
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s debut novel, Signal to Noise, had been on many “best of the year” fantasy/YA lists for 2015, but it took me a while before getting around to reading it. I’m glad that I persevered, though; it truly is a finely nuanced yet totally accessible book that is less about magic and more about life.
Alternating between 1988/1989 and 2009, the story centers around three classmates in Mexico City, who find in friendship a respite from dysfunctional families and a sense of powerlessness. Feisty ringleader Meche, dreamy, biddable Daniela, and lanky sweet natured Sebastian are definitely not part of the popular set at school. They don’t have enough money, style or social standing to keep from being the targets of bullying and disdain, but they do have a plan for striking back: magic.
The three use a burgeoning magical ability – manifest through music – to supplement their meager lives, both imaginatively, and later, tangibly. But as the magic becomes stronger, and more dangerous, cracks appear in the friendship, and the magic that used to bind them together ends up tearing them apart. But even with the novelty of this story line, Signal to Noise is less about magic and more about the decisions we make about life and how we chose to live it, both in the moment and years after.
Under author Moreno-Garcia’s deft touch, Meche, Daniela and Sebastian become distinct and engaging characters against the backdrop of the seedier side of Mexico City and its inhabitants; these kids are completely believable and even recognizable. Their yearnings – to be accepted, to be noticed by those they admire and yearn for, and to simply smooth out the rough patches of their lives – are something that we all can relate to. When the fallout finally comes, it feels inevitable; but the hoped for reconciliation years later is less certain. In the end, it is not the magic that the reader is drawn to, but the relationships of the friends themselves.
It’s kind of a cliché that a book written for young adult audiences can be enjoyed by all ages, but this is one of those books that bolster that cliché. While it definitely has been written for a YA crowd – at times I almost felt like I was a kind of eavesdropper reading about what these kids were going through (probably because they didn’t have many positive adult role models) – I felt at the end that I had truly experienced something valuable. All those “best of” lists? Signal to Noise earned its way on to those, and the honors are well deserved.
~ Sharon Browning