I’ve a fondness for (juvie) graphic novels, and the name Tallulah.
Hardcover graphic novel (out in paper), 240 pages. Science fiction, ages 8-12
The tagline: Best Friends. Mad Science.
With the idea of “science fiction teen girl detectives” in mind, Sanity & Tallulah was born first in a zine. And if you think the idea meant merely relocating Nancy Drew to a space station, you’re in for a surprise.
Despite a strict “no domestic mammal” policy on their dilapidated, out-of-the-way space station, Wilnick, Sanity bioengineers a carnivorous vertebrate. The three-headed kitten’s name, courtesy of Tallulah? Princess. Sparkle. Destroyer of Worlds.
The entire sequence of Tallulah’s mother, Dr. Soledad Vega, interrogating Sanity and Tallulah on the use of the lab, its resources, and, finally, the cat is an entertaining way to open the novel. I was especially amused when Dr. Vega turns from Sanity to her daughter’s involvement.
Tallulah! You knew about this?
…Iiiis that a trick question?
Arrgh, Sanity, I have told you before, any experiment involving a vertebrate life-form requires peer review, and Tallulah doesn’t count! Bringing creatures to live all by yourself is mad-science territory. This is how people get eaten by their own creations, or grow prehensile tails. Do you want to grow a prehensile tail and end up like Dr. Gorges?
The girls’ first concern is what is going to happen to their kitten when Dr. Vega orders it removed for lab containment, but the kitten soon escapes. Worse, the ship starts experiencing technical difficulties. Trying to solve the mystery of the missing three-headed kitten is one problem. That it leads to the mystery of what is sabotaging the space station is another.
It’s a race against time, trying to find the kitten before the authorities do. And it’ll be down to the wire to save the space station from imminent destruction. Fortunately, the best friend detectives are up to the task. And they make a great team, with Sanity taking the science-genius lead while Tallulah takes the role as supportive friend at whatever cost.
The friendship—and adventure—is grounded in an affectionate familial atmosphere. While stern about their venturing into mad-science, Soledad is supportive of Sanity’s brain. When it comes to the fate of the station arriving at a precipice, she’s all-in with relying on Sanity’s ability. As for her own daughter, she worries about Tallulah keeping up with her schoolwork (over screen time) and keeping out of mischief. We meet Tallulah’s father Henry and younger brother Horace at the dinner table. I think Tallulah’s father knits their sweaters while piloting shipments; I know he’s invested in their children after his trip to Epsilon with Horace. Later we’ll meet Sanity’s father aka the Station Director when things go seriously awry. He’s unsurprised by the girls’ mischief, but isn’t particularly angered or distracted by it. Sanity’s mother and elder sister are spoken about as if they are temporarily on an off-station mission on a security/military matter. Brooks has you curious enough about them to hope they show up in another episode.
Brooks must have a larger story at work, because when Tallulah’s father and younger brother are on a delivery job to another station, the brother is anxious about something, and two young people receiving the shipment go fan-girl meeting “the actual Henry Davisson”—Henry Davisson who is sporting a prosthesis. Events/interactions happen in natural ways at the periphery, as Brooks maintains a page-turning focus on the most pressing matters: like what happens when they find Princess Sparkle Destroyer of Worlds?
The art, you’ll notice, is appealing. It can get pretty text heavy, and venture steeply into the sciences. I enjoyed having such intelligent and determined heroes. I enjoyed having such a diverse cast: Tallulah is Latinx/White, Sanity is Black, and the crew and classmates vary in representation. The story has good energy and humor, as well as a pretty good mystery. But the interactions between the primary characters are the best, you’ll look forward to meeting them again.
Recommended for readers of graphic novels, science fiction, mysteries and adventures. For readers of Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence (which is the closest match), Maihack’s Cleopatra in Space, and loved Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl.