This is a review in parts.
Part 1: Let’s talk about definitions, baby
I think a lot about classifications and designations: it's simply who I am as a reader and reviewer. Thinking about Signal to Noise and trying to pin it down as something or the other was hard work and a wholly futile exercise because I couldn’t do it as the book is this rich, elaborate symphony of awesome that defies simple definitions.
It’s part fantasy, part YA, part coming-of-age, part family drama, part historical, part romance, part musical. For all of its parts, it is incredible how Moreno-Garcia builds this seamless whole.
However, one thing I will say: it’s not until the last chapters that it becomes increasingly obvious that Signal to Noise is, in fact, a love story at its core. At that point in time, I believe I hugged the book.
Part 2: Break on through to the other side
Taking place in Mexico City and alternating between 1988 and 2009, Signal to Noise opens with Meche going back home for her estranged father’s funeral after staying away for 20 years. Meche finds herself reviving old, painful memories as she meets her family and her old friends Sebastian and Daniela.
Back in 1988, everything was different, everything teemed with potential just as everything was terrible. Terrible in the way that only outcast, bullied teenagers can understand. Sebastian, Meche, and Daniela are an impossible group of friends, brought together by their social standing but firmly separated as individuals by their personal circumstances.
When then they find out they can cast spells using music, the trio starts doing small spells that will make their lives a little bit better—a little bit of pocket money here, a little image adjustment there.
But their magic is not without consequences. In fact, Meche’s grandmother warns that “magic will break your heart” (oh, how it will), and the more they use it, the more compelled they are to do more and more. At the center, Meche controls all because she is the more powerful one, the one who knows music, her powerful magic born out of knowledge. Their friendship, precarious as it is to start with, becomes even more fragile under the strain of magic: magic brings them closer together, magic will set them apart. Think Mean Girls meets The Craft.
But what is it exactly that completely destroyed their bond, that made Meche and her father stop talking, that made her fraught relationship with Sebastian something that might not survive the years?
Signal to Noise is an incredibly painful novel in the way that it shows how so much noise corrupts the signal between people. But it’s also one that offers beautiful hope by exploring how there’s a whole world of time between teenage years and adulthood and breaking on through to the other side is possible.
Part 3: Unlikable female characters
I want to talk about Meche as a character or as a particular type of character. Meche is one of those unlikable female characters that people tend to hate and I tend to love: she is angry and mean and proud and spiteful and standoff-ish and flawed. She is so freaking human, in a way that female characters are rarely allowed to be because we tend to be much harder on female characters, especially teenage ones. Meche is a complicated and complex character and to see her arc from teenager to adult was utterly gratifying.
It’s a little bit funny how some books grow on you the more you think about them. Signal to Noise, with its intricacies and complicated people, is one of them. And also the romance! OH THE ROMANCE. This book destroyed me into little pieces and then the last page put it all back together in the best possible way.
I know it’s very early in the year but I can already tell this is one of the Notable Reads of 2015.
In Book Smugglerish: a melodic 8 out of 10.