I’m having trouble processing the fact that I’ve already finished my first Aurora read. Certainly, at 272 pages, Signal to Noise isn’t a huge book, but it’s packed with all kinds of action.
In 1988, Meche is a fifteen-year-old girl with an obsession for music and an affinity for computers. She comes to realize that she can use her vinyl records to compose magical spells, and attempts to use this gift for both fair and foul reasons. She’s at that age where she hasn’t fully matured, yet she’s not a child any longer. While other girls are pretty and popular, she’s dealing with pimples and social awkwardness. Her two best friends are similarly challenged and dealing with the pressures of their school’s social hierarchy. In addition, her parents are on the cusp of divorce. The only stable force in her life is the grandmother who tells her stories of magic and witches.
Fast-forward to 2009 and Meche returns to Mexico for her estranged father’s funeral. She has to confront her feelings about him and his abandonment of her family. She also has to face the friends she abused and some nasty home truths that have been keeping her from truly moving forward in her life.
The story is fast-paced and the characters are vividly realized. I started reading Signal to Noise a couple of days ago while recovering from a migraine. I blazed through the rest of it tonight. You give me a compelling enough story and I have trouble putting the book down. Dishes? What dishes?
Setting the tone with voice, language and music
As I’ve been doing my own reading and research into the art of writing, one of the major factors that keeps being mentioned is ‘voice’, both on a narrative level and a character level. If this story has one huge star quality, it’s the voice.
While I was reading, I was hearing a Spanish/English rhythm to the language, from the everyday English sentences to the occasional Spanish word or phrase. I don’t know how many people hear accents when they read, but I’m definitely one of them. Never let anyone tell you that a second-language class isn’t worth it — I made good use of my own high school Spanish education (sadly atrophied, but still useful).
Music is another huge aspect to this book, and as a music nerd, I appreciated the little touches that mentioning songs from specific eras lent to the story. Whether it was invoking the sultry tones of jazz or the pop-candy of Dead or Alive and Cyndi Lauper, the narrative and setting stayed firmly in focus depending on the music. My aforementioned high-school Spanish classes? The teacher totally had all us girls swooning over Luis Miguel. Thanks Mrs. Xander. Thanks.
As an aside, my grade-school French teacher tried the same tactic with a couple of Quebecois bands/singers, but he missed The Age of Hormones by about three years and it didn’t work out quite as well for him. Quel dommage.
To sum up:
In the end, Signal to Noise is a story of growing up, of forgiveness, and redemption. We see the mistakes made due to miscommunication, or the petty jealousies that feed immature selfishness. We see the sacrifices the more mature characters are willing to make, and in the end, it’s up to Meche to come to grips with the life she’s made for herself and see that she needs to move beyond the choices she’s made.
Wonderful story. Earns all my stars.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I probably have some dishes that need washing…
TL;DR A vivid fantasy about a grown woman coming home to deal with a parent's death and confront her magical past.
Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Published by Solaris
Source: Prix Aurora Award voter's package
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I received this book free as a part of the Aurora Awards Voter’s Package. The Aurora Awards are Canada’s national awards for best science fiction and fantasy, as voted on by the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. Nominees, winners, and CSFFA members must all be Canadian.