Goldie Vance Volume 1 took a classic mystery (who stole the necklace?) and shook it up with Russian spies and NASA. The natural course of the investigation made it grow into something more than a routine case. Volume two starts with an image that doesn’t make sense and then goes backwards to try and piece out an explanation. It’s the Twin Peaks way of establishing mystery. There’s no pretense of routine and Goldie gets to tread directly into the strange waters of beauty pageants and scuba diving, to find out the identity of a seaweed strewn astronaut who washes up on the beach.
Goldie’s father is the general manager at Crossed Palms Resort in St. Pascal, Florida, and the beach is a private section reserved for guests. Goldie is there at this early hour to fall asleep on the morning jog she agreed to run with her best friend, Cheryl. It’s when she wakes up that she spots the space suit, with a girl inside, stranded on the sand. Suffering from amnesia (storytelling’s worst stalling tactic), Jane Doe doesn’t know who she is but she does get a reason for her memory loss that holds up further into the story.
Goldie’s troubles run deeper than astronauts when she takes the credit for Cheryl’s observations about the suit in front of NASA, her dream employer. Cheryl’s aspiration to become an astronaut (complete with crush and framed photo of Alan Shepard) is consistently one of the series’ golden points. For one thing, it’s a perfect way to set the story in 1963. Artist, Brittney Williams, and colorist, Sarah Stern, have designed beautiful period clothing but they’re also styles this writer would happily stock in her closet, making the story sometimes feel modern. History grounds the text in a certain time, and where the sixties have been remembered for hippies and peace, it’s also the decade most associated with the space race. The US were rushing against the Russians to meet each milestone. Rockets were new and unprecedented. Getting to share in that first-person excitement is a lot of fun.
For Cheryl to be a young girl having these dreams sets Goldie Vance above and beyond. Women, let alone women of color, weren’t the faces of the space race. Look at how long it took for us recognize Katherine Johnson and get a movie (Hidden Figures, 2016) made about the incredible contributions she, and other women, made in the field. Of course, there had to be young girls wanting to be astronauts but that’s where the modern take on the story shines. It takes a story written today about the sixties to acknowledge these young girls. Cheryl’s gender is never brought up as a detriment to her chances and the times her dream are mentioned are in appreciation of her dedication: reading STEM books when she’s not busy, physically preparing herself for the conditions of space, saving money for college.
Which brings us to Goldie not having Cheryl’s back when she freezes up in front of the NASA employers. Goldie is sixteen and it’s understandable that, in the moment, she might not have jumped to correct their mistake. She wasn’t trying to steal Cheryl’s thunder. Where Goldie is wrong is in not appreciating why Cheryl might be upset about this, and that Goldie got an invitation to their teen space training program that should’ve been hers. Readers might want Goldie to realize her error, but the writer, Hope Larson, doesn’t provide instant gratification. The story is from Goldie’s perspective so when she’s estranged from Cheryl, readers, unfortunately, are, too. Nevertheless, the plot is very much about their friendship, with chapter five’s ending being a real showstopper that forces Goldie to question whether there are parts of her best friend’s life she doesn’t know about.
The detective work is believable (deducing where a young girl would hide secrets from her mother) and the characters are thoughtfully diverse. Goldie’s girlfriend, Diane, is especially wonderful, from her sweet enthusiasm whenever she can help Goldie’s investigation, to the way she pushes Goldie to make her own realizations about how Cheryl might be feeling. Williams’ dream hypotheticals and in-story confirmation that Diane’s look is inspired by Audrey Hepburn, bring more, huge pluses. Goldie Vance Volume 2 would make a great beach read, if you’re already thinking summer, and is welcoming to new readers seeking an entry point into the series.