Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Fiction Review: The Impossible Fortress

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you already know that my reading this month is focused on getting ready for Booktopia, a unique event that connects readers and authors in an intimate setting for a weekend in early May. My first Booktopia read for the season was a good one: The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak, a fun, warm, and very funny novel about a teen boy in 1980's New Jersey who wants to be a computer programmer.

Billy Marvin is a fourteen-year old boy who lives in northern New Jersey in 1987. He is something of a nerd and not very popular at school, but he doesn’t mind much because he has his two best friends, Clark and Alf, who are also each social outcasts in his own way. The three friends have fun eating junk food, watching TV, and riding their bikes around town. In his spare time, Billy creates his own video games on his Commodore 64, a relatively new pastime that his mother and teachers don't understand.

Life is fun and simple until the day that Alf breathlessly reports to his two friends that he has seen Vanna White's naked butt on the cover of Playboy at the local newsstand, inside an office supply store. What follows is a desperate quest for the three underage boys to get themselves a copy of the issue that everyone is talking about, through several poorly thought-out schemes that get more and more outrageous. A local troublemaker who is a senior at their school offers to help them, with a plan even more extreme than the ones the boys thought up.

In the process of carrying out these schemes, Billy meets Mary Zelinsky, the daughter of the owner of the office supply store/newsstand. Mary is the first person Billy has met who is as obsessed as he is with computers and programming. Not only is she a girl but she's an even better programmer than he is. Mary shows Billy a flyer for an upcoming programming competition for teens at Rutgers and suggests they pool their talents and enter the contest. With a first prize of a new IBM PC – with far more power than Billy's little Commodore 64 – Billy agrees.

As Billy and Mary spend hours after school programming and working on their joint video game, the boys move forward on their plan to not only obtain a copy of the coveted Playboy magazine but to sell the photos to their classmates and make a profit in the bargain. As the two storylines collide and intersect, disaster threatens, and things get worse and worse for Billy.

There is plenty of suspense here, as the boys get pulled deeper into the complicated plan with the older boy, and the deadline for the programming competition draws closer. Adding to the entertainment are ample 80's pop culture references - video games, computers, movies, and music - that make this novel a nostalgic ride for anyone who was young during the 80's (I graduated from college in '87 but could certainly still relate to all that). Topping off the fun is a wonderful sense of humor, as the teen boys act like typical teen boys. I laughed out loud frequently during this novel and was tempted to read passages aloud to my husband, but I knew he'd want to read it, too. He also liked the novel very much and also laughed out loud throughout; we enjoyed sharing the funniest parts with each other once we'd both read it. I absolutely loved this fun and compelling novel, filled with warmth, humor, and a bit of romance.

285 pages, Simon & Schuster

P.S. Although this book is marketed for adults, older teens and young adults should enjoy it as well. 


  1. I think this may be one of those rare books that my husband may actually read! I'll have to look into it for him!

    1. Great! My husband and I both loved it. Has some similar characteristics to Ready Player One, my top-read of 2015 (if you haven't read it yet, you MUST!)

  2. We are the same age! I graduated from college in 1987 so I am putting this at the top of my "must get" list. It sounds really fun and I always love '80s references

    1. ha ha - I thought you were a kindred spirit, Helen :)

      Have you read Ready Player One? It's similar in some respects, including the 80's pop culture references...and was my favorite book read in 2015! It's coming out as a movie this year - can't wait!