Author: Jason Rekulak
Genre: YA Contemporary
Format: Paperback (ARC Copy)
Page Count: 272
“Mary was grinning at me, waiting for me to laugh at her jokes, but my mind was still back in the showroom, I was still holding her hand and touching her hair. I felt like something extraordinary had just happened- like I’d a caught a glimpse of a different world- and the transition back to reality had left me with whiplash.”
**I was sent an Advanced Reader’s Copy for review. In no way does this affect my views and opinions on the book**
A dazzling debut novel—at once a charming romance and a moving coming-of-age story—about what happens when a fourteen-year old boy pretends to seduce a girl to steal a copy of Playboy but then discovers she is his computer-loving soulmate.
Billy Marvin’s first love was a computer. Then he met Mary Zelinsky.
Do you remember your first love?
The Impossible Fortress begins with a magazine…The year is 1987 and Playboy has just published scandalous photographs of Vanna White, from the popular TV game show Wheel of Fortune. For three teenage boys—Billy, Alf, and Clark—who are desperately uneducated in the ways of women, the magazine is somewhat of a Holy Grail: priceless beyond measure and impossible to attain. So, they hatch a plan to steal it.
The Impossible Fortress is a charming little contemporary that transports you right back to the 1980s. It’s basically about two computer geeks falling for one another, but that’s only one of the main plot lines. The other is all about 14 year old boys trying to obtain an issue of Playboy to see some rather explicit pictures.
The romance plot line between Billy and Mary was the cutest thing ever, I loved seeing two misfits bond over something as simple as coding a computer game. This was by far my favorite part of the book, and if it was solely about this plot, it would’ve received a much high rating. Alas, the Playboy plot slightly ruined the book for me. I really didn’t care much about some 14 year old boys trying to buy porn, it simply does not appeal to me. However, I do understand why it was included since the two plot lines joined together quite well in the end.
Billy, our protagonist, was a joy to read. He was incredibly kind for the most part (especially when compared to Alf, his douche canoe of a friend), motivated to do the right thing, and had phenomenal character development. Billy might’ve not been doing the best in school, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t smart and the book highlighted this well. Yet, his friends were not my favorite. Clark wasn’t all that bad, but is not that memorable overall. It’s a different story with Alf though. He was definitely memorable, but not in a good way. Alf was obsessed with seeing women as objects and something to goggle at, which should never be acceptable in a coming of age story. Between the three boys, there was also a good deal of fat shaming. Once again, books do impact their readers, and I wish that messages like these didn’t exist, especially in YA books. No young reader should think that it’s okay to buy porn when you’re 14 and sell copies of it, or believe it’s acceptable to quickly judge someone based on their appearance.
Mary was easily my favorite character. She is a girl who has been targeted as an outcast simply because she’s a little overweight, and enjoys doing things that aren’t typically considered girly. She’s a wizard at computer coding, both in BASIC and in Machine Language (which is notoriously difficult to understand, and rarely used today). I did feel like the twist with Mary at the end came out of nowhere, and once again I’m curious about the message that it sends. I don’t know what it added to the overall plot, but it was interesting to say the least.
Like I mentioned above, the parts where Mary and Billy are working on programming a computer game for a competition were a joy to read. As someone who is actually currently taking a computer science class and learning to code, I found this extremely relatable. Each chapter begins with a section of code from The Impossible Fortress (the game they’re making), and while I’m learning Python, not BASIC I could still understand the basis of it which was loads of fun. Seeing Mary and Billy’s friendship develop was so great, because it felt truly genuine.
The writing style was neat and easy to fly through. It didn’t have a huge “wow” factor, but I don’t think it needed it. The book is set in 1987, which was a relatively simple time, so the book reflected that. The pacing was impressive, as not a single part of the book felt dull or boring to me. There were scenes that I wonder if were necessary, but they didn’t detract anything from the story.
Overall, The Impossible Fortress is a story with a few questionable plot lines and characters, but has a very charming overarching feel. If you have any understanding of programming languages, even if it’s very basic (ayy see my pun there?), this will be especially fun for you! If you’re in the mood for a quick pick me up story, you may want to give this one a go.