Saturday, November 19, 2016

Book Review: "The Impossible Fortress" by Jason Rekulak

All I need to do is hear that a book takes place in the 1980s and a little alarm in my head goes off that says, "Read this!" Throw in video games and 80s music (even the pop stuff), and I'm totally there!

It's 1987. Billy, Alf, and Clark are all 14, and they're pretty much obsessed with one thing—Playboy has just released pictures of Vanna White. They're determined to do whatever it takes to get their hands on this magazine, which means stealing it from the local office supply/convenience store. The boys hatch a rudimentary plan to get the magazine, and while their mission fails, Billy finds one bright spot: Mary, the daughter of the store's owner.

Mary is not only attractive (albeit a little overweight), but she's funny and tough. And smart—she even knows more about computer programming than Billy, who has created several games on his home computer, and taught himself to code. Mary promises to help Billy with his entry in a computer game design competition being judged by one of the industry's brightest young stars, and she helps him through more than a few tough spots he was stuck on.

When Alf and Clark launch a more complicated yet seemingly foolproof plan to steal the magazines from the store, they need someone to get the alarm code from Mary. Being less than knowledgeable about women, Alf and Clark seem to think they can fake-romance the code out of Mary, but Billy volunteers. He doesn't let on that he and Mary have teamed up on a contest entry, but promises to make progress in order to get the code.

The plot to get the magazines and see Vanna's pictures becomes more and more complicated. While Alf and Clark work on the logistics, Billy is all too happy to spend every evening with Mary, working on their game. He knows he feels something more than teamwork and camaraderie for Mary, and he thinks she feels the same way, but he's never had a girlfriend before, so he doesn't know what to do or how to act. Once the game has been entered into the contest, and things go a little bit awry, Billy is faced with an incredible dilemma: does he tell his friends how he feels about Mary and convince them to end their scheme, or does he keep his word and get the alarm code?

The Impossible Fortress does a good job capturing the cluelessness of teenage boys, and the single-minded pursuit of money, popularity, and naked pictures of women, although not necessarily in that order. It's an entertaining story about loyalty to your friends, the flush of first love, the desire to make something of yourself, and the excitement of creation. Jason Rekulak evokes the 80s really well; it's amazing how different things were back then, when you couldn't rely on the internet for information, when only certain people had a very slow version of email communication, and when no one was in constant communication with anyone.

While Rekulak does a good job portraying his characters' immaturity, he doesn't really give them much depth or appeal. While he throws in one interesting twist, everything else in the book is fairly predictable, and the characters behave much as you'd expect them to. I wouldn't have a problem if we got to know Alf and Clark a little more, but we really just see them acting like idiots and pressuring Billy. Mary is a fascinating character I would have liked more of, and Billy is appealing, while clueless. And for the most part, the boys go from scheme to scheme, each one wackier than the next.

If you're a child of the 80s, or you like entertaining stories about teenage friendships and the challenges of growing up, check out The Invisible Fortress. And as a bonus, you can play The Impossible Fortress game on Rekulak's website,, if you're a computer game fan.

NetGalley and Simon & Schuster provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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