I'm surprised this book got low star ratings from anybody... but then, when I read those reviews, I don(I received an electronic galley via NetGalley)
I'm surprised this book got low star ratings from anybody... but then, when I read those reviews, I don't even feel like we read the same book. The Norma Gene was quick and fun and funny, with an interesting premise and a bonus title pun.
The premise of The Norma Gene is that human cloning has become a thing and, as it turns out, there are a whole lot of people who would rather have clones of celebrities than clones of their own DNA (or, even more ghastly, THEIR MIXED DNA ZOMG). As a result, there are a gaggle of Marilyn Monroes and similar people running around the planet, leading to some serious existential crises that even result in support groups like Marilyns Anonymous.
Then, there's Abraham Lincoln Finkelstein, who was illegally cloned from Abraham Lincoln and whose parents weren't bright enough to maybe give him a different name. The cloning of "crucial" historical figures was illegal because someone made another Hitler; one of the early lines that hooked me into the book was the Terry Pratchett-esque explanation of this law being enforced strictly, "despite the fact that the Hitler clone not only failed to live up to his 'potential,' his sense of inferiority and petty vindictiveness kept him from rising past assistant manager at McDonald's."
That made me think of the Chad Vader YouTube series and it made me laugh.
Obviously, an illegal clone that is as recognizable as Abe Lincoln isn't going to stay a secret for long. There will be consequences and they will be amusingly absurd. Meanwhile, a Norma Jeane clone has her own story going on that intertwines with Abe's; she's a conflicted non-Marilyn (yet?) working at a perfume counter in a department store. She's also kind of a klepto, which causes some... complications with her job.
I thought the book was well-written. It's not high literature, but I'd put it in the same league as books by writers like Nick Hornby and Chuck Palahniuk, maybe even a book like Jitterbug Perfume (actually, I enjoyed it more than I've enjoyed a Palahniuk in a long while). I would probably give it 4.5 stars if I could, but I'm rounding up because it is seriously not a one-star book. I devoured this story in a day.
If you don't like YA but you like coming of age stories, you'll like this book. If you DO like YA, I think you'll like this book. It hits that reallyIf you don't like YA but you like coming of age stories, you'll like this book. If you DO like YA, I think you'll like this book. It hits that really sweet spot of being about young people and appealing to a wide audience.
Signal to Noise is a little bit Ready Player One, a little bit High Fidelity, a little bit The Craft, and also more than those. Meche, the main character, has been branded a "loser" by most of her peers; she runs with a crew of other misfits, but they love each other and they don't *feel* like losers. They want to fit in and they want to be accepted--or, at the very least, stop being bullied. Especially Sebastian, who loves to read and gets picked on constantly for that . . . I can definitely relate.
One day, a bully pushes Meche too far and she discovers that she has magic abilities. (Normally, this is the part where I'd groan and check out of a book, but I thought it was done well enough to suspend my disbelief.) The bully suffers an accident, and Meche knows it's because she wished it. She gathers her friends together and they start trying to figure out how the magic works--and they figure out it comes at a pretty steep price.
What I really loved about the book:
+ The characters were so. well. written. They were sometimes painfully real (in that awkward teenager way). I was happy to follow them on their journeys--so much so that I read the whole book in one day.
+ There were enough pop culture references to make me feel like I was back in the 80's, but not so many that I felt like it was just a fan wank. The story really shone through.
+ MECHE LOVES COMPUTERS! It was so great to see a female character who is passionate about math and science, and who actually goes after it.
+ It takes place in Mexico City. I love Mexico. Not in a "omg let's get plastered in Tijuana this weekend guyz" kind of way but in a "let's drive past the border towns to somewhere that barely has a road and never come back" kind of way. It also gave a whole other spin to the "disaffected almost-punk teen" story; in some ways, it was universal, but in others, it was very specific to Mexican culture.
+ The magical parts of the book were balanced really well with the "real" bits of the book. And the magic was handled well--it wasn't a panacea and the potential downsides to being magical were definitely displayed. It didn't feel like one of those books where the author said, "Oh hey, wouldn't it be fun to have magical powers and be able to DO ANYTHING I WANT?!" and then wrote a wish-fulfillment story.
+ DAT COVER ART, THO
I would have given the book 4.5 stars, but I bumped it up to five (which I usually reserve for almost-perfect books) since it's super-new and indie press published. It's a really fun book that also tugs at your heartstrings....more