Grace Pizzelli is the average one, nothing like her brilliant older sister, Emily, who works for Rasmussem, creators of the world’s best virtual reality games. The games aren’t real, though—or at least they weren’t. Now Emily has hidden herself inside a pink and sparkly game meant for little girls. No one knows why, or how to convince her to come back out, and the technology can’t keep her safe for much longer. Grace may consider herself average, but she’s the only one who can save Emily. So Grace enters the game, hoping to talk her sister out of virtual suicide before time runs out. Otherwise Emily will die—for real.
Vande Velde again plays with characters caught in a virtual reality game in this overlong but satisfying novel. Fourteen-year-old Grace feels inferior to her pretty, popular, and smart sister, Emily, a college student interning at the Rassmusem Corporation, which is behind "total immersion, the next step beyond virtual reality" (the company's games also played a role in Vande Velde's Heir Apparent and User Unfriendly). When Emily refuses to come out of a game, leaving a cryptic note behind, Grace goes in to rescue her. Vande Velde provides a lot of setup as readers learn more about Emily's tragic story and "Land of the Golden Butterflies," a girly video game filled with sprites, sparkly clothes, dolphins, and unicorns. The plot accelerates when Grace discovers she and Emily are both trapped in the game, and she must figure out how to escape. Readers may tire of the endless mission, but they will find clever gaming details throughout and should appreciate Grace's growing understanding that she can be a hero both in the game and in real life. Ages 10 14.