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Signal To Noise
Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Solaris paperback 7.99

review by Susan Darlington

There's a metaphorical magic to music in the way it can make the listener feel understood or raise them up until they're 10 feet tall. In award-winning short fiction author Silvia Moreno-Garcia's debut novel, Signal To Noise, music also has a literal magic that can generate money, make books fly off shelves, and repair motorcycle engines.

The secret property of vinyl is discovered by Meche, a 15-year-old 'dweeb', who causes injury to the school bully by thinking bad things about him while listening to the Doors' Break On Through (To The Other Side). He's the kind of high school jerk who writes 'ugly whore' in her maths textbook and who gives her the nickname 'Unibrow', which could easily be a reference to Frida Kahlo's infamous mono-brow given that Moreno-Garcia is Mexican by birth and Canadian by inclination.

It's a heritage that's played out in this young adult fiction novel, which embraces both the coming of age genre and magic realism. Written with two narrative strands, in Mexico City in 1988 and 2009, it sees Meche re-examining her past when she returns to her hometown for the funeral of her estranged father. This journey of reconciliation and romance is effectively conjured in a city that pulses with heat and social segregation; its streets full of tortillerias, derelict factories, and stray dogs.

Moreover, it's a city and time period that's effortlessly recreated by the music that Meche listens to with her equally un-hip friends: sickly Daniela and Lurch-like Sebastian. There's rarely a page that turns without one of the characters listening to Nina Simone, Billy Idol, or Mexican rock band Timbiriche amid casual references to Garfield, Pac-Man, and Miami Vice.

In this way Moreno-Garcia captures the mundane shared experiences and the pains of being a teenager in the late 1980s for, despite the magic, Meche is a typical adolescent who lusts after the school's hazel-eyed, blond haired jock and nestles 'a lot of little hates' against society that she seeks to soothe with a pile of records.

It's an easy prose style that's only slightly let down by the occasional lack of attention. At one point Dolores - Meche's grandmother - is erroneously named as attending a school assembly instead of Daniela, and at another Meche rolls down the car window to give money to a street kid only for the reader to be told a couple of paragraphs later that she rolls it down to let out cigarette smoke.

These minor inconsistencies, which could easily have been removed by tighter proof reading, are thankfully infrequent enough to not spoil the overall novel. An engrossing debut that details the loves, losses, and longings of its three teenage friends it will have the reader digging out their old mix-tapes and school memories.

Signal To Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia



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