‘Signal to Noise’ Full of Spellbinding Nostalgia

Way back in my childhood days, the 80s had passed recently enough that nothing about them was cool. The 70s, sure, but the 80s? As if. Time has a way of making old things new again, though, as evidenced by the Stranger Things kids and all the other 80s properties stirring up nostalgia and retro cool.

A still image from the third season of Stranger Things, showing the gang looking very concerned in a mall-like setting.
But I feel like to truly appreciate the 80s, I need to try New Coke. I know it’s bad, but how bad?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not mad about this. Especially if it means we can have more love for 80s-era stories like Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Signal to Noise.

In 1989, Meche is a music-obsessed high schooler, whose love of a good beat is only fed by her DJ father, Vincente. But when she discovers that her vinyl contains more than metaphorical magic, she enlists her friends, Sebastian and Daniela, to help her form a proper witching circle and cast spells. Whether it’s finding money on the road or casting love spells, the power of their intent makes up for the disadvantages financial and social handed to them by life. But with their newfound power comes unexpected conflict that threatens to splinter their little group.

Twenty years later, Meche returns to Mexico City for the first time since the events of that fateful school year, this time for the death of her estranged father. Get in, pay her respects, deal with the belongings of his that her long-divorced mother doesn’t want to bother with, and get out and return home to Norway, that’s the plan. Plans, though, are made to be broken, especially with her meddling cousin on the case. Meche doesn’t want to mend fences or heal wounds. But maybe there’s some magic left in Mexico City, and in Meche.

The cover to Silvia Moreno-Garcia's 2022 re-release of Signal to Noise, showing stacks of books, vinyl records and cassette tapes in the foreground with headphones hanging and an electric bass leaning to the side. In the center, a witchy candle burns.
If the audiobook doesn’t have a playlist in the background, that’s the missed opportunity of the century.

One thing I love across Moreno-Garcia’s work is her persistent refusal to be boxed into a genre. She got some extremely well-deserved love with her 50s-era Mexican Gothic, and from her 1970s thriller Velvet Was the Night. She’s done urban fantasy and historical science fiction and romance and mythology set in the Jazz Age. For all her genre inconsistency, though, she consistently delivers rich writing and characters far more concerned with their own realism than likability. That is present in spades with Signal to Noise.

Most characters get at least a few scenes from their own POV, but the vast majority go to Meche. Her eventual feud with her friends is hinted at in her adult storyline long before it’s described in the events of yesteryear. In some ways, the issue doesn’t seem devastating enough to break them apart, but Moreno-Garcia lets her teenage characters be teenage characters, both in the heights of their enthusiasm and the depths of their dramatics. In her thirties, her point of view suits someone who’s seen too much and coped by shutting herself away for twenty years. When she finally feels safe enough to be vulnerable, it feels like a win even as a reader.

Signal to Noise was originally published in 2015, but it’s getting a reprint, out on September 13. I’m glad it’s getting another chance to find readers. The 80s are back, baby, and it’s a good thing.

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