Signal to Noise: Best of 2015

signaltonoiseSignal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Solaris: February 10th, 2015 (Fantasy / Coming of Age / Fiction)

Outstanding Adventure! vintagesuitcase3vintagesuitcase3vintagesuitcase3vintagesuitcase3vintagesuitcase3

This story about three teenagers growing up in 1980s Mexico city drew me in so slowly and seductively that I hardly realized it was happening, until I felt compelled to turn page after page. The real world faded away as the vivid colors of Meche’s, Sebastian’s, and Daniela’s Mexico City surrounded me.

Meche, the main narrator, is a fifteen-year old misfit who spends all her time with two other misfits at her school, Sebastian and Daniela. Meche, the ringleader, goads Sebastian and Daniela into practicing magic with her portable record player after she discovers she can make inexplicable things happen if she wants it hard enough while playing the right song.

The narration splits between all the main and close supporting characters, and between two time periods: their fifteenth year, in 1988, and twenty years later, when Meche returns for the first time to attend her father’s funeral and nine days of mourning. Sometimes, split narratives can be distracting, but they rounded out the characters and the story here. As the story progresses, we find out that something terrible happened between the trio of friends, and Meche is deeply opposed to seeing Daniela and Sebastian when she returns. Slowly, it is revealed what happened and why the friendships disintegrated.

Magic is integrated seamlessly into the contemporary(ish) Mexico City society that surrounds the story. While it should have felt strange that modern-day kids could perform magic, it felt right. It’s almost, though, as if the magic is really a subplot to the story of three young kids growing up on the fringes of society, learning to recognize and deal with life and how they feel about it. It’s a love story and a coming of age story at the same time.

Mexico City of the 1980s felt so real, so alive, I’m tempted to take this author’s word that that’s exactly how it happened, exactly how it was. I loved the portrayal of a life I thought would be more foreign to me, but after all felt very familiar in many ways, even though I grew up in a different country in a different decade and speaking a different language.

While the setting was real enough to almost be its own character, the characters themselves – primary and secondary – still stood out. Each character is flawed: Daniela weak, Sebastian proud, Meche stubborn and afraid. They’re not as simple as that, though, and their complexities are revealed in their relationships and interactions. It would be a completely different story if any of the characters had been different in any way. Individual choices and their consequences affect the narrative in significant ways.

An evocative, powerful, and beautiful tale of magic, dreams, love and hate, betrayal and redemption, this book is heartbreaking and heartwarming, and one of the best I have read so far this year. I recommend it to everyone, and I would definitely buy it.

*Advance copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Read-alikes

I don’t even know what to put here … Perhaps Shadowshaper, even though I haven’t read it yet.

Lagoon has the same evocative modern city setting that could almost be another character, a similar sense of mysticism, and multiple narrators. I didn’t find it nearly as compelling as Signal to Noise, but you might!

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