Review – The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

The Impossible Fortress

By Jason Rekulak

Summary: 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.

 Source: Book of the Month Club pick 

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The Impossible Fortress promised an amazing YA journey through 1980’s nerd and pop culture that I couldn’t pass up. I love the 80’s and it sounded like it would be right up there with Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which was a huge favorite of mine that I’ve recommended many times. 

I was incredibly disappointed by The Impossible Fortress.

At first, the boys were trying to come up with ways to get their hands on the new Playboy issue with Vanna White which was a great plot device because it was the 80s, they were young, and it was a big deal at the time. They came up with pretty elaborate schemes and finally settled on one crazy one that worked out well for Will. Will was a programmer and creator of video games using code and discovered a girl hanging out at the store where the Playboys were sold who also shared the same interest. So he came up with a way to give himself a reason for hanging out with her to work on this video game contest in context with the heist for the Playboys. He used the scheme as an excuse was because she was kind of fat and his friends were making fun of him and her for the short interaction they witnessed and Will didn’t want to just admit he thought she was cool or shared a similar interest. 

The boys seemed a bit over the top about getting their hands on the Playboy and women in general, but part of the problem was that the characters were all pretty flat, so there wasn’t anything else about them that we knew. Had the author done a better job creating well rounded characters, it would’ve shown that, while obsessed with naked chicks, they were still actual people with other interests and personalities. I even feel like the book missed out on friendship dynamics that would’ve made the group more realistic and easier to love.

For the majority of the book, Will grew as a character as he began spending a lot of his time learning code and developing a friendship with Mary and even her standoffish dad who owned the store. He wasn’t as interested in the antics of his friends because he had a goal and was working towards it with someone who shared the same passion. It was a great transformation… until he completely undid all of that great character growth by being an awful friend and lashing out after being rejected. 

All of the obsession with Playboy and girls was totally fine and even relatively normal for the time frame, so I wasn’t even bothered by it. The fat shaming and offhand comments the guys made about Mary were also things I could deal with and not really get upset about because Will was growing as a character despite it and it was a thing back then. But then Will was a completely awful person by lashing out, allowing damage to property and people, all because he was rejected by Mary. And, while he did realize he was being a jerk, the book didn’t do enough, in my opinion, to really talk about the fact that he didn’t have a good excuse to lash out. There wasn’t really a lesson learned by anyone in regards to women and since the book was published recently, I think the whole “it was the 80s” excuse didn’t work anymore. The whole end just made it seem like Will messed up, but also there was a twist and Mary was pretty messed up, and everything was fine. There was this whole “boys will be boys” kind of attitude that rubbed me the wrong way and made me a bit uncomfortable. This book was pretty much awful when it comes to showing a healthy attitude towards women and by the last page, I was just kind of disgusted by everyone. 

There could’ve been a number of ways the Playboy magazine heist could’ve blown up in Will’s face and I knew it was inevitable, but the way it all went down was just disappointing and ruined a story that I was mostly enjoying. Mary shouldn’t have needed a reason to turn Will down (yes, this apparently needed to be explained) and Will shouldn’t have lashed out in a very awful way and if those things happened anyway, then there should be some sort of lesson everyone learned as a result. And since there wasn’t, at that point, I could no longer shrug it away and say “but it was the 80s” anymore.

Star 2


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