Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Impossible Fortress, by Jason Rekulak

Jason Rekulak's first novel, The Impossible Fortress, is the most fun-to-read book I've read in a while.    Sure the premise is ridiculous, and the teenage protagonists make some stupid decisions, but that's because they're fourteen-year-old boys.  Here's the set up.  Billy Martin and his friends will take great risks to catch a glimpse of Vanna White's spread in the new Playboy.  The only place in their small New Jersey town to buy Playboy  is Zelinsky's store.  Billy Martin is tasked with wooing Mary Zelinsky and getting the alarm system code so they can sneak in buy the magazine (they'll leave some money on the counter), and sneak back out undetected.

Such a simple plan, yet so much can go wrong.  Billy, a budding computer game programmer, learns that Mary is a much more accomplished computer programmer than he is.  They end up designing a game together and entering it in a contest for high school kids.  As they work together on the the game, he becomes friends--and perhaps more--with Mary, and is wracked with guilt about their plan to steal/buy the magazines.   Of course the romance is thwarted, the plan is a disaster, friendships are strained, and--well, let's just say there are some terrific, unexpected twists.

Rekulak has written some characters that you can't help but love.  Billy wants to do the right thing, but his passion for programming is much more important than school.  His friends can be jerks, but they are the kind of friends every boy needs.  Mary, a loner who goes to the Catholic girls' school, needs a friend herself, but something about her stops her from getting too close.

One of the "characters" that makes the book is the decade of the '80s.  Set in 1987, The Impossible Fortress will be a nostalgia trip for readers of a certain age.  The music, the TV shows, and especially the video games and the rise of the personal computer will bring back memories.  If only I had not spent so much time playing the games, but actually trying to figure out how they work and creating my own, like Mary and Billy do, I would probably be much better off today.

So, yeah, the premise is ridiculous.  It's almost a little charming, though, that teen boys in the 1980s were that desperate to get a glimpse at a Playboy when today they can access endless pictures in seconds. . . . Progress?  I'm afraid not.  And yeah, the boys make some stupid decisions.  They're smart kids; is that really the best plan they could come up with?  But their lust-crazed irrational exuberance turns this into a great story.  Rekulak is a very entertaining writer.  He made me laugh out loud and got me a little too emotionally involved with the characters (in a good way).  I highly recommend The Impossible Fortress.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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