Book Review: Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Music and nostalgia in Moreno-Garcia’s debut novel

Image by Solaris

I read this in the spring of 2021. It was a hopeful time for me, given another break from a wave of COVID, and a lot of space to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I had moved back to the town where I had spent my teenage years and twenties in, leaving behind a life that I both created for myself and thus I loved, was sad to leave behind, but also knew was over and that was for the best. Wandering these suburban streets gave me a lot of nostalgia for my younger years.

A big part of younger me, especially early teenage me, was discovering just how much I loved early college rock, alternative rock, punk, and various related genres of music. It was exhilarating to come into this stuff at such a young age and at such a pivotal point of my life where I was new to the country, to the city, and to all the things that were expected of a teenage girl.

Signal to Noise reminds me of that time in my life. The way Meche is bound to the music she plays and the music that her dad plays is familiar and inviting to read. Keeping in mind that Signal to Noise is a coming of age, urban fantasy, and romance young adult novel, it shook me from the present and not just made me relate to Meche, but made me relate to Garcia as someone who would write something like this at all because it’s something I would write. I wanted to reach into the pages and hug her. Or at least ask her for a coffee at a hip music cafe!

Admittedly I love the title of the book — it was what I was initially drawn to. It calls to the ratio of signal to noise power, but when I read it, I imagined that moment when the signal from a guitar reaches its amplifier and makes it louder, distorts it, and turns it into rock music. Although a lot of the music talked about in the book is Spanish, which I think is especially beautiful of Garcia to include, rock music still plays a huge role in the magic that these three teenagers find themselves conjuring, and it was this mixture of classical Spanish and contemporary American rock music that was alluring to me.

To get into the novel a bit, Garcia employs a kind of Mexican ‘music is magic’ metaphor and turns it into actual magic. The way the characters discover their magical potential and create spells is through playing vinyl records on a record player. Their power is always stronger when together and focused on a single person, event, or wish. This part of the book reminded me of the movie The Craft, and has a similar outcome. While they keep their deepest pains private, they create chaotic energy and things backfire. That said, the characters in this book do grow through both familiar and yet distinct pains.

Regardless, what I especially like in this story is the way music is woven into every step of it. While the title is referencing sound, the book cover is of a cassette tape (hey, us music nerds actually bought those) and music is the tie between Meche and everyone she loves. That’s how I’ve always lived too, and perhaps that’s the takeaway for the kind of person that will most enjoy this book.

As far as the content and actual writing go, I didn’t find myself especially captivated by those aspects. There is a disconnect between this teenage restraint and myself at this age I am now where I know so many conflicts can be resolved if people just talked to one another. It was hard to read some of it and know these characters were willing to sacrifice these substantial relationships due to their shame. If that wasn’t such a prominent part of the ending I think I would have enjoyed it more.

With that, I am highly anticipating my next Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican Gothic, which I’ve heard is a vastly different kind of book heavily leaning into the horror genre. I’ll have to brace myself!

Rating: 3.5/5

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