REVIEW: The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak
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 heist will be fraught with peril: a locked building, intrepid police officers, rusty fire escapes, leaps across rooftops, electronic alarm systems, and a hyperactive Shih Tzu named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Failed attempt after failed attempt leads them to a genius master plan—they’ll swipe the security code to Zelinsky’s convenience store by seducing the owner’s daughter, Mary Zelinsky. It becomes Billy’s mission to befriend her and get the information by any means necessary. But Mary isn’t your average teenage girl. She’s a computer loving, expert coder, already strides ahead of Billy in ability, with a wry sense of humor and a hidden, big heart. But what starts as a game to win Mary’s affection leaves Billy with a gut-wrenching choice: deceive the girl who may well be his first love or break a promise to his best friends.
At its heart, The Impossible Fortress is a tender exploration of young love, true friends, and the confusing realities of male adolescence—with a dash of old school computer programming.
Dear Mr. Rekulak,
Oh yeah, this one brings back memories. I came of age in the 1980s – my hair was big and I wore shoulder pads and acid washed jeans along with all my friends. But I never tried to do the Madonna look. After reading the time setting in the blurb, I knew I wanted to try this one.
First and foremost, I hope the fact that Billy and his friends were after a Playboy issue won’t drive readers away. Really this only kick starts the plot but for Billy, it soon fades into the background and becomes insignificant because he has found his adolescent soul mate. A person who is as – if not more – excited by computer coding than he is. Yes Billy enjoys playing computer games but his real passion is coding and he finally has someone who shares that.
As he and Mary spend time together working on his game for submission to the contest, Billy quickly realizes and is awed by Mary’s talent for and grasp of coding. She’s a genius at it and can read lines of code like a book. The two of them together synch into a total game designer. Billy also realizes he wants to see Mary far more than he wants to continue with the plan he and his friends hatched. But events are now conspiring to force their hands and as sick as it makes him, Billy is trapped.
I was unaware of time passing as I read this. Not only for the trip down memory lane for me – no, I won’t tag this as a historical! – but also because of the sweet romance with layers. Billy has watched his single mother work hard to support them so he isn’t surprised at Mary’s strength of will and easily accepts she’s better at coding. It also helps him understand an event which occurs late in the story.
The growing relationship between them feels right for fourteen year olds and the conflicts that develop make total sense when both learn what the other was hiding and why. I loved the buddy friendship of Billy, Alf and Clark and how those two stand by Billy as his game almost comes to life but the scene wherein Billy manages to regain his mother’s broken trust was awesome. I also like that both Billy and Mary make mistakes as teens will do.
Since we are just talking about young teenagers, there is a happy ending, maybe one which will further develop but I’m satisfied with their friendship and hopeful for their futures – together or not. B