Friday, June 26, 2015

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Signal to Noise
Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Meche, Sebastian, and Daniela are struggling with their social status in high school in Mexico City in 1988. Meche, fluent in the language of music (one of the few things she has in common with her father), makes a startling discovery: she can use music to harm a bully. The manifestation of magic is something she shares with her grandmother, but their communication is too strained for Meche to learn from her. Meche realizes that she can feel magic’s power in vinyl, and that with Sebastian and Daniela’s (sometimes reluctant) help, she can make their wishes come true—only, not all of their wishes are for good, and the magic could tear her friendships apart.

Interspersed with the scenes of 1988 are scenes of Meche’s return to the city in 2009 after a long absence. She has come to mourn her father, not to mend old wounds. Still, she can’t escape the evidence of her past, and all of the feelings and memories that come with having had a taste of magic.

While music is an important theme in Signal to Noise, I was fascinated by the oft-ignored theme of magic with consequences. Here, magic complicates what is already complicated. I particularly want to chew on the idea of failure, too—failure to reach across generations and friendship fault lines, and what happens when people fail to pass on important information, leaving the followers to draw conclusions that aren’t always kind, or true, or fully understood. Failure to see the outcome of actions. Failure to find self-realization. Still, all of the failures lead to bittersweet reckoning.

If none of this hooks you, consider Signal to Noise for Meche, its angry, flawed heroine. She’s a character you’ll want to both comfort and unravel. –Undusty New Books

One other thought that is far enough removed from the book and its contents that I wanted to mention it separately from the review: this book came from Solaris, a UK imprint. I kept getting snagged on a handful of words that felt very British, and “which” where I expected “that” (US and UK usage differs considerably; the UK uses which in restrictive situations, whereas the US does not, except when we get confused about grammar or, sometimes, want to try to sound smart and don’t know the difference). I do read books in other Englishes, and like them; why should I expect a book in English that is set in Mexico (and that in my head is taking place in Spanish, just in some way that I can understand completely) to use US English? Something for me to think about, as I often have stopped reading books in translation, finding them flat and dry (and wondering if they were vibrant originals), and have stopped reading books because of, say, punctuation dissonance (I’m thinking of Born Confused, which I’d actually really like to finish someday—maybe I need to audiobook it—but always end up putting down because the dashes feel like smacks to the brain, and I can’t muster the sustained energy to read it in one go and remember what’s going on). Always the struggle between want to read and enjoy reading, between push self and find comfort, between seeking familiarity and novelty, perhaps.

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