Deadly Pink by Vivian Vande Velde

Deadly Pink is a book about sisters and virtual reality games and forgiveness and persistence in doing what’s right. I kept thinking of Winston Churchill’s famous dictum: “Never, never, never, never give up.”

Grace Pizzelli is the traditional average younger sister. Her sister, Emily, who works as an intern for Rasmussem Games is the brilliant, talented one. And mostly Grace is OK with that because in addition to being intelligent and gifted, Emily is also kind and helpful to her younger sister. In fact, Emily is almost perfect, as older sisters sometimes tend to be.

That’s why it’s such a surprise when the officials at Rasmussem come to Grace’s school to get her to help Emily. It seems that Emily has been beta-testing a virtual reality game for young girls called Land of the Golden Butterflies, and she refuses to come out of the game. Unfortunately, the games are only made for thirty minutes of game play at a time, not for living in the game world forever, and no one knows what will happen to Emily’s body and mind if she doesn’t come out of the game. Grace must persuade her older sister to leave the fantasy world before her time runs out.

I was anxious to turn the pages in this virtual reality story to see what would happen next, why Emily is determined to stay in game land, and how Grace will save the day and rescue both Emily and herself from death by virtual reality game. The suicide theme may be a little heavy for some middle school readers, but I didn’t find it overwrought or too distressing.

The relationship between the two sisters is what makes the story really shine. Grace is annoyed and irritated by the way Emily treats her when Grace comes into the virtual reality world to save Emily. Emily basically tells Grace to get lost. But Grace doesn’t give up on her sister. I’m not explaining too well, but these are real sisters who love each other in spite of imperfections and mistakes on the part of each of them. Here, let me give you a few quotes to illustrate:

“A cranky part of my brain kept repeating that we were in this bad situation because of Emily, and it was hard not to let my irritation spill over. The last thing I needed was Emily feeling sorry for herself. It infringed on my feeling sorry for myself.”

“That was it. My patience snapped. I wanted to shake some sense into her, some sibling loyalty. I settled for grabbing her arm to get her to stop dancing.”

Mean? Mean was eating all the chocolate Easter eggs and leaving the stale Peeps. Mean was making fun of a bad hairstyle. Mean was letting someone else take the blame after you tracked mud onto the clean floor. Mean didn’t begin to cover what Emily had put me through.
But she was rocking me, making gentle comforting noises as though I were once again the six-year-old who’d fallen off our backyard swing trying to fly too high. ‘Everything will be okay.'”

I also liked this book because it was a contrast to all the kids-save-the-world books that I’ve been reading for the Cybils Middle Grade Fantasy judging. In Deadly Pink, one girl, Grace, tries to save her sister, Emily, and it’s hard and suspenseful and engaging. But we’re not asked to believe that a group of twelve year olds or one thirteen year old is the only possible resource to rescue the entire world from imminent destruction. What a relief!

Grace and Emily Pizzelli, the Pizzelli Sisters, are some wonderful sisters to get to know. And their story is suspenseful and funny, both. From the author blurb, I learned that Ms. Vande Velde has written two other books about virtual reality games created by the (fictional) Rasmussem Corporation, Heir Apparent and User Friendly. Has anyone read either of them? I’m not fan of video games, but I liked this book well enough that I’m willing to go find the two other books set in the same fictional world and try them out –especially if I can get a recommendation. Anyone?

In the meantime, Deadly Pink is worth your reading time, especially if any of the motifs in the opening sentence of this review pique your interest.

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