Mexico City, 1988, 15 year old Merche is an awkward outcast at school along with her best friends. Her passion, what keeps her going, is music; her all consuming obsession
And it is through these vinyl records that she discovers something greater – magic. And what can three outcast teens do with such powers? Fix their broken lives… or make others pay?
And in 2009 Merche comes home to confront so many of the shadows of her past and what happened when she was a teenager.
This review was exceedingly hard to write, I’ve restarted 3 or 4 times and I’m just going to have to plunge in and hope my thoughts land in something resembling order.
This is a book I have a lot of respect and admiration for. It portrays what it does with excellent depth, nuance and development. The characters are really excellent – fully fleshed out people with so much detail into their motives, their dreams, their lives. Everything they do is understandable and natural and real – they’re not just characters, they’re people.
Merche is our protagonist and she isn’t an easy character to like because she is so human. She’s not always likeable, she’s certainly not always fair. She’s aggressive and short tempered and she lashes out really excessively to any perceived attack. She manipulates people and quite often she treats her friends appallingly. She is very bad at seeing anything from any point of view but her own. But none of this is unnatural or not understandable – she’s an angry teenager who is not exactly leading her dream life and very sure of her own rightness. Yet we have an angry teenager, with all the jealousies, insecurities and desperate wishes of said angry teenager backed by the power of magic – and how terribly that can be abused
The same applies to all the characters, to a lesser degree because Merche’s confidence and leadership is what drives her so others are more likely to follow in her wake. But we can see all of the point of view characters (Merche, Sebastian, her father) doing things that we know are self-destructive, we know will not end well but at the same time I can see why they’d do them. We can see them do selfish, unwise and even outright terrible things but we know why they’re doing it – not because they’re bad or foolish or badly written, but because they are so very human. Everyone is humanised, even side characters we’re not supposed to like much (or people that Merche takes an intense dislike to) because they are people with motives and flaws.
Then there’s the romance – we have two excellently contrasting romances: the classic, overwhelming emotional infatuation of Sebastian and Merche for the respective, terrible love interests and the much more mature and deeper love that both of them learn later. I like this a lot because the classic teen romances they have are so common and tropey in the genre while, at the same time, such an obvious trainwreck
This is all topped off by the way the book is split – between adult Merche learning a little more about her father and reconnecting with Sebastian – and how much more she matures. This makes it ultimately a story about maturity, about growing and learning and accepting your mistakes from the past even while you are still affected by them
So I have a lot to praise about this book… but… I can’t say I enjoyed it, but a lot of that is for very personal taste reasons (yes, of course any review relies on that). For example, music is a major part of Merche’s life, it defines her experience, it’s the one constant in her every experience. It’s meaningful in a way that goes beyond a mere hobby or interest. While it’s an amazing element of her character, it’s also a barrier for me simply because most of her references I don’t get and most of the rest I care little about. It’s like being stuck on the bus next to someone who really wants to tell you about X when you really really don’t care – it tells you so much about the character, it’s amazing development – but that doesn’t mean I’m actually interested in hearing it