They had been cool. Sebastian had been gangly and greasy-haired, Meche as developed as an eleven-year-old boy with pimples dotting her face. They’d both dressed in atrocious clothes and the company they kept — sickly, chubby little Daniela, with the stash of Twinkies and Chocotorros under her bed — didn’t help.
But they had been cool. For a little while. When magic was real.
And she had cared the world for him.
After years living in Europe, Meche comes back to Mexico when her estranged father dies. Although he was an avowed atheist, her mother insists on holding the traditional vigil offering nine nights of prayers for his soul, pushing Meche uncomfortably into the spotlight of the community she left. As an adult she’s developed a successful programming career and established a home in Norway, but there are aspects of her earlier life that still haunt her. She might have run away but the relationships she left behind are frozen in limbo, and returning to her childhood home brings all the memories of her teenage years flooding back: from her awkward friendships and schoolyard rivalries, to the magic she and her friends discovered through the playing of records. The narrative intersperses scenes from Meche’s formative years with the story of her return to Mexico.
Teenage Meche is the product of a dysfunctional family, regularly dispatched by her mother to fetch her father away from his drinking. She’s brittle, moody, and (once she discovers the art of hexing) dangerous. The fragile three-way friendship she shares with Sebastian and Daniela has all the recognisable hallmarks of hormone-driven angst, but with their shared secret, their power to harm one another goes far beyond the usual hurtful words or hallway scuffles. But it’s her parents’ divorce that finally pushes her over the edge.
Signal to Noise picks up the common trope of teenagers discovering magic, and adds a dose of healthy realism. It’s quite by chance that Meche stumbles into her ability to draw magic from vinyl records, but unlike most stories of teen spellcasters, she doesn’t go on to save the world or even herself. Poor and unpopular, her concerns are more mundane: getting noticed by the popular kids, and enacting vengeance on those who snub her. Giving teenagers a dangerous weapon seldom ends well in real life, and this is reflected in the unfolding events.
As an adult, Meche has clung to a lot of her adolescent fury, removing herself from uncomfortable situations rather than facing the consequences of her actions. Her brief homecoming, and the knowledge that she can never repair her relationship to the father she loved despite his flaws, provide the cue she needs to finally grow up. Over the course of nine days’ mourning, she faces up to the fallout from her youthful exploits and finally begins to accept responsibility for herself. Taking the rare step of addressing the aftermath of magic use as much as its discovery, this is unusual and intellectual fantasy fare.
Signal To Noise is Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s debut novel, published this month. She also has two short story collections available.