Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia follows a teenager called Meche around Mexico City, and meets up with her again in the modern day as she deals with her deceased father’s affairs. Unwanted memories spring up all around her, especially of Sebastian and Daniela, her two teenage buddies. Back in the day, they learned to conjure magic using music, which leads to fun – at first.
Here’s me setting this up like a horror story when this is more of a fantasy tale, leaning into romance. If you’ve read a lot of teen romance – which admittedly I haven’t since I was a teen myself, but the memories remain – you’ll know that teenagers in love can be wildly passionate, and also remarkably dumb.
Meche is both of those things – she loves her friends and her family, but they make it hard for her to maintain her feelings, causing a lot of dramatic tension. Her father may have set her love of music up, but he’s not always around, and that breaks both Meche’s heart and the harmony in her home. Her mother tries her best, but she’s fighting a losing battle against a man who’s less interested in maintaining the family and more into keeping himself happy. Her grandmother is the sensible one, but even her wisdom and past experience in magic can’t solve every problem Meche has.
So Meche throws herself into her friendships, and the power of music. The trio of Meche, Sebastian and Daniela are written with brilliant realism, snapping at each other like only best friends can while still being there for one another. Most obviously, Sebastian is there for Meche, but as their relationship deepens, there’s a lot of one-sidedness. This is where things get a little frustrating, as the love Sebastian has for Meche is so painfully obvious, you just want them to get together. But Meche keeps pushing him away, time and again. By the halfway point I was having to talk myself out of throwing the book down and yelling CAN’T YOU SE HE LIKES YOU at the pages, but that’s how I got thrown out of the library last time, so…
As for the magic, this is less The Craft and more Teen Witch, as spells are used first for fun and then for vengeance, but never in a way that borders on Full Nancy. Glamours and telekinesis are the main powers exhibited here, along with love spells and money wishes. Flowing alongside those magicks is the idea that you need the right tune to cast your magic to, a concept that plays nicely with that maturing attitude to music all us as teenagers carry. Sad songs, happy songs, ones that make you remember a particular moment. You’ll find ones that you’ve heard of here, and discover tracks you want to seek out. It’s the kind of book that begs for a link to a Spotify playlist at the back (but there isn’t, at least not in my edition!).
Despite Meche having a strong interest in magic, the mysticism often feels like it takes a back seat to her personal woes. Her relationship with Sebastian is so cringeworthily realistic that you find yourself more invested in that than the consequences of their spellcasting. Magic certainly isn’t the main focal point until the final third, as an incident spoken about in whispers up to that point is finally revealed. Seeing as the book bounces from past to present regularly, you’re left wondering just how bad this Big Bad Thing was, and it’s played out well, with deep consequences for the characters. It happens so late though, and it’s built up so much, it didn’t have the same impact as some of the other magic-casting scenes.
There is impact though, especially in the closing chapters as all the dangling threads are neatly bunched together. However you might expect things to go, the last 2 pages tug on the old heartstrings in the right way. You’ll feel love and hate right there alongside the trio of friends, and in those final moments, it’s hard not to feel the love Moren-Garcia author has for them too.
Highly recommended, check out a copy for yourself via the links on Sylvia’s Moren-Garcia’s website here