Love Byte By Helane Zeiger

Love Byte

Honestly, I was expecting this to be terrible: that title! That font! Those glasses! But aside from the awkward first-person present-tense narration, this was kind of a hoot.

Background: I’ve previously discussed the merits of the similarly-becovered Sweet Dreams, First Love and Wildfire YA Romances, but Caprice remains something of a mystery, and the titles comparatively difficult to find.

Author Helane Zeiger is also kind of a mystery, having only a handful of Caprice titles to her credit; through the magic of the internet I have learned that she is also a “Yo-Yo Professional”, model for Adidas tracksuits and a Hunter College alumna (Rah, rah!)

The Plot: High School junior Amy “Brainy Amy” Ross is afflicted with that trifecta of girl-nerd problems: a figure she describes as “short and squat”, braces and glasses. She also has an ex-Prom Queen mother who is constantly bugging her to find a boyfriend, because GAWD, MOM!

But, in true girl-nerd fashion she is far more excited about the start of the spring semester, and the exciting new electives she’ll be taking, which include Chemistry, Advanced Algebra and Juvenile Law. She’s also signed up for an extra-curricular computer programming class after school at the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley.

Still, that doesn’t prevent first her mother, and then her glamorous blonde BFF Cynthia from bugging her about finding a dude- any dude-  to ask to the Sadie Hawkins dance, because duh:

Spring term also means asking that someone to the Sadie Hawkins Dance in February, so, maybe, by June he’ll ask you to the Junior Prom.

And, as everyone knows, going to The Prom is literally the most important thing you will ever do. Also isn’t Sadie Hawkins Day in November?

While Cynthia urges her to write to Dear Abby and Ann Landers for advice, Amy has come up with a more practical plan: she will go where the boys are. And since this is 1983, that means heading over to the infernal bleep-blooping of the A-Maze-Ment Video Arcade.

But first she does what any girl-nerd does: goes to the library and checks out the latest book on video game tactics and strategy, reading up on how to beat that arcade favorite, Gobble Guy. What? It is totally nothing like Pac-Man! The ghosts have totally different names! Cease your cease-and-desists, Namco! (Other suspiciously familiar games featured include Monkey Maze, Caterpillar, and Croaker)

Arriving after school with Cynthia for moral support, Amy spots Mark, and is immediately attracted to his keen fashion sense:

He wears ankle-high, white basketball shoes, knee-high socks with blue stripes at the top, tight, cord shorts and a gray cut-off T-shirt.

I’m also picturing some sort of headband, completing the ensemble

What’s not covered up by his clothing is the rest of his sexy, muscular body and sensational legs…

Whoa, whoa there Amy!  Maybe you should at least talk to him before undressing him with your eyes like that!

Amy is able to impress Mark with her book learnin’ regarding video games, and he invites her to meet him after school the next day to watch him beat his own high score at Defend and Protect, which I guess is Generic Space Invaders.

Cynthia assures Amy that she and Mark are practically going steady.  Amy is still concerned about, y’know actually asking him out on a date, but she figures it is at least enough ammunition to get her mom off her back.

However, complication! Amy’s parents are constantly sniping at each other because Mrs. Ross has recently returned to the workforce and is unable to prepare the elaborate candlelight suppers that her husband has become accustomed to, and nobody can get the hang of the new-fangled microwave oven that they now depend upon:

“It’s a little more than done,” my father sneers, his mustache curling up on one side as he tries to spear one of the bouncy wieners with his fork. Finally, he succeeds in piercing a rubbery, not-so-hot hot dog. It hisses back at him like a punctured tire.

Mom also has big news: she’s been elected president of the PTA, and is about to spearhead an initiative to get the City Council to bar everyone under the age of 18 from video arcades!

Amy is caught off-guard by the announcement, and mumbles something about meeting a new boy, but leaves the circumstances of the meeting vague.

Amy takes the issue to her Juvenile Law class, which in turn rallies and decides to present their counter-argument to the City Council. Amy becomes the school hero, winning the admiration of Mark (duh, of course he’ll go to the dance with her!), video game queen Jennifer (“If I can’t play Gobble-Girl after school, for sure, I’ll die!”) and hunky senior Dave, the editor of the school paper, who constantly dogs her for an exclusive interview.

Of course, word eventually gets back to the PTA that they will be facing some resistance, and Amy’s parents basically blacklist their own daughter.

Undaunted, Amy and Cynthia take the BART into San Francisco for some shopping on Castro Street, where they acquire two entire outfits, shoes included, for the 1950s-themed Sadie Hawkins dance. For less than $10. My kingdom for a fabric-based time machine!

Amy and Mark have an enjoyable time at the dance, including sharing an age-appropriate kiss, despite the fact that the health nuts have taken over the refreshments committee:

Heart-shaped cucumbers and radishes with carrot and celery arrows piercing through the vegetables are stacked sky-high on the plates.

“The cookies look good,” I say to Mark and take one. But one bite of the delicious-looking brown cookie and I’m not fooled; they’re disgusting carob, not mouth-watering chocolate.

Amy and her classmates spend the rest of the week preparing for the City Council meeting, but Amy remains distracted by the fact that Mark hasn’t asked her to the Junior Prom yet.

She gets her answer when she runs into him in the waiting room at the orthodontist, where they are both coincidentally getting their braces off. Deciding to take matters into her own hands, she asks him; he sheepishly responds that he’d loved to take her, but he just spent all of his savings on this rad hand-held electronic football game.

Amy is incensed! Maybe her parents are right and video games are blight on society and Mark is an addict! She takes her concerns to her Juvenile Law teacher on the eve of the City Council meeting, and he’s all like “Whoa, whoa there, Amy, ‘addict’ is a strong word.”

Her confidence bolstered, Amy arrives at the City Council meeting to find Dave there with a local TV news crew in tow, who are appropriately impressed by her quippy soundbites.

The debate is the stuff of high drama, pitting mother against daughter. Amy throws away her notes and speaks from the heart, which results in many appreciative nods and black-slaps. Although the entire thing is almost derailed by Jennifer’s obnoxious Valley Girl-slang, it turns out that her mother is also on the PTA and is an even worse public speaker.

When the City Council reconvenes, they announce that they are dismissing the PTA’s proposal! Amy’s parents are so impressed that they forgive her! She forgives Mark and they share a braces-less kiss! Dave asks her to the Junior Prom! Ice cream for everyone!

So, in the end, our stubby heroine wins a moral victory over her parents, two boyfriends and a giant cookies ‘n cream sundae. Pretty much the textbook definition of a good day.

Sign It Was Written in 1983 Department: “By the time I burst into class, everyone’s booted up their disc. That’s computer language for turning on your machine.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have a Title! Department: “Haven’t you ever heard of love at first sight? Or in your case, love at first byte. Get it, Amy?”

Stylin’ Department: “Go for the ‘preppie’ look this A.M. Over underwear throw on alligator shirt, “Regular” straight-legged jeans, pair of boat shoes.”

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6 Responses to Love Byte By Helane Zeiger

  1. Grace says:

    I think her juvenile law teacher should be forced to take his addict comment back. I know a number of real-life people whose marriages have broken up over video game addiction, usually WoW.

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