Thursday, June 28, 2012

Too Much Pink: Deadly Pink by Vivian Vande Velde


When she is summoned out of her freshman math class to the principal's office, Grace cannot imagine anything good waiting for her there. But what she learns from her distraught mother is nothing that she could have imagined.

It seems her college freshman sister, Emily, the family superstar--brainy, pretty, and popular, with a prestigious internship programming computer games at Rasmussem Corporation--seems to have inexplicably entered one of her virtual reality projects, Land of the Golden Butterflies, from which she cannot be extricated, leaving behind only a cryptic note in her perfect handwriting:

Not anybody's fault.
This is MY choice.

In the Rassmussem lab, Grace and her mother find Emily, electrodes in place, pale and still on the gaming couch, eyes moving rapidly behind closed lids. Grace knows from her Rassmusem gameplay that this is normal for virtual reality games, but what she learns from the technical staff is alarming. Emily, the golden girl daughter, has programmed the game so that she cannot be exited from it, a game designed for a half-hour or so of immersion which becomes deadly for players to remain in it for many hours, as Emily obviously intends. Two hours have already passed, and her Rasmussem bosses and their lawyer seem very alarmed.

Mom is beside herself, and her total lack of gaming experience make it impossible for her to help her older daughter. Grace seems to be the only one with plenty of gaming hours who knows Emily well enough to try to go into the game and convince her to come out on her own.

A quick immersion into the game finds it a mystifying choice for the cerebral and practical Emily. Designed for elementary-age girls, princess wannabes who get off on sparkly pink and lavender wardrobes and Disneyesque landscapes with unicorns, wish-granting sprites and potential princes who seem to appear to meet every whim, this seems the last game she would choose. Once Grace makes her virtual way through the glitz, she finds Emily-in-the-game disgusted at the appearance of her little sister, sending her off on tasks which end with her "death" and instant emergence from the game

But the observant Grace notices something odd: all the endlessly compliant and impossibly hunky men in the game are either mute or speak no English, and Grace's hunch is that this silent role for men means that something has gone wrong with her sister's long-term relationship to her fiance Frank. Can all this digital drama be merely the result of the break-up blues?

Grace makes a few phone calls, from which she learns that Emily has apparently been living a different life from what her family thought, the friend-filled, romantically happy life of a care-free coed. Her old friends seem to have lost contact with her, and Frank reports brusquely that they are no longer a couple. Now Grace realizes that Emily's motive in imprisoning herself inside this virtual reality game is, in reality, a form of pink and lavender suicide.

Back in the game, Grace confronts her sister, and eventually the now-fading Emily confesses that she had used her computer skills to hack into college entrance records to alter some of her friends' SAT scores and that her dishonesty is about to be exposed to the world. Grace must convince her sister to give up her deadly game and return to real life. As her sister loses her real and gameplay strength, Grace realizes that it is up her, the average daughter, to outsmart her superstar sister's programming skills and gain exit for both of them before Emily's time runs out forever.

The third book in Vivian Vande Velte's series on virtual reality games is both witty and suspenseful, as the sisters ultimately team up to deal with the surreal Land of the Golden Butterflies, tricking gold-gathering dragons and outplaying the rapacious King Rassmussem himself before the deadly GAME OVER ends Emily's life, virtual and actual. Deadly Pink (Harcourt, 2012), forthcoming in July, utilizes the venerable "frame story" setting, in which characters living in the real world find themselves, through a fictional device (usually magic or a scientific device), suddenly interjected into another world populated with strange beings and its own set of rules and tasks. Although the game's setting is fluffy and girly, the danger becomes just as real as any alien warriors or sword-and-sorcery warlock warlords for the two teen-aged protagonists. Girl gamers in particular will go for this feminine-friendly fantasy fiction which racks up a high score at the virtual arcade. "... the author delivers another clever, suspenseful drama in the digital domain" says Kirkus Reviews.

Other books in this virtual reality game sequence by Vande Velde are Heir Apparent and User Unfriendly.

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