Book Review: The Impossible Fortress
Author Webpage: The Impossible Fortress | Jason Rekulak
Hints of: Ready Player One, Armada
Warnings: Teen Pregnancy, Police
Triggers: Wheel of Fortune, Bad 80’s Love Songs, Mascara
A trio of awkward teen boys... and one brilliant geek girl with a shattering secret.
An unexpected romance born on 8-bit computers and 5¼-inch floppy disks.
A daring and dangerous heist to steal the May 1987 issue of Playboy Magazine, featuring scandalous photographs of Wheel of Fortune hostess Vanna White.
All of these elements collide in The Impossible Fortress, a coming-of- age crime caper that explores the timeless and ever-confusing realities of male adolescence. Jason Rekulak’s hilarious debut novel offers a nostalgic celebration of old-school computer programming, 1980s pop culture, and the last great days of Life Before the Internet.
So this was an interesting one. Traditionally, I can tell within the first 50 pages if I'll like a book. So I loved the first 50 pages. The first third and last third of this book I flew through. I couldn’t put the book down. The middle third was a bit tough. Why?
There were two storylines - stealing the Vanna White Playboy and Billy Marvin's love for computers - that challenged each other in my opinion. I know they're designed to play off each other, as Billy meets Mary Zelinsky in the shop he & his friends are trying to steal the magazine from. He slowly works with Mary to "gain her trust" to "break it later" but ends up building a BOMB computer game with her. That becomes the best part of the book - hands down. THAT part of the book screams Ready Player One.
I feel the Vanna White storyline dragged - part of the reason the middle third of the book was tough for me. I was much more focused on the computer game storyline, which I think the author could have played up far more. They could have wrapped this storyline either earlier, or just dropped it occasionally. Literally every other chapter was about Billy's friends pestering him for a month-old magazine to "be cool" with the high school seniors.
I wish the author had played up the single mother storyline more. Without giving away spoilers, it was a perfect 3rd or mini-plot that would wrap nicely towards the end of the book. Also Billy is a jerk to his mother.
Speaking of, Billy's friends were THE LITERAL WORST and I was mad he even spoke to them. Alf is the actual worst. They use him to get to the Playboy Magazine. They do not care about his friendship. Prove me wrong. They trick him into tagging along to steal it, and don't tell him they invite high school dropouts to trash the Zelinsky Store. They abandon him when the cops arrest him. They make fun of his relationship with Mary. I literally cannot.
Another trigger character for me was the high school principal - he is everything I hate about the town I was born in. The whole ‘you have to be good and focused at everything otherwise you’re an idiot’ K-12 mentality, but even reading about it makes me mad. It’s clear he needs to be in a magnet program, or a focused curriculum. Instead, he shoves him in a SHITTY Summer job when he needs to be working for a computer store or gamin store. Rocks and Streams. UGH.
When Billy is arrested after the lot breaks into the Zelinsky store and ultimately fails, I at first thought 'good for Billy keeping those guys from ruining everything. They'll recognize this.' However instead, the local cop Tack just lets these two detectives (who CLEARLY HAVE MOTIVES) “relax” into the scene with no parent or guardian. He’s 14. Years. Old. Of COURSE he’s going to say what they want - the adults are tricking him. They use this situation to literally try to put him in jail. The Good Cop - Bad Cop routine gave me nightmares.
Just reiterating, I understand at the end why Vanna is hyped, due to the need to break in the store. But I wish that had wrapped sooner, so we could get further into the Impossible Fortress, longer meeting with Fletcher Mulligan, etc.
Lastly, The Mary-Tyler pregnancy shocker was like a one-page and done thing. I wish this had been touched on more. That's where you could tie in the single-mom storyline with Billy's mom, you could have seen a story arch with Billy, give me SOMETHING THERE.
If there is a sequel announced, I’m pretty sure I’m going to write to the author to tell him to focus on the gaming part. Pretty sure I'm writing to him regardless. Is that a super Karen move of me? That was the beauty of Ready Player One. It was head over heels in the game - not the real world.
I wish Billy’s friendship story arc had been more complete. I don’t care they helped me get to St. Agnes. They still straight blamed him for the cop routine. I wanted him to tell them to call him when they grew up.
You could literally not pay me to go back to high school.
Final Fun Fact:
Do ya'll read the author notes? READ THIS AUTHOR NOTE. You can actually play the game, and the author challenges readers to beat his high score! You can play for free at jasonrekulak.com. His high score is 11,358 and he wants you to tell him if you happen to beat it.
This was Jason Rekulak's Debut Novel.
Drink Pairing: TBD
“Girls practically invented programming. Jean Bartik, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas—they all programmed ENIAC. And don’t forget Margaret Hamilton. She wrote the software that let Apollo 11 land on the moon.”
“I meant programming video games,” I said.
“Dona Bailey, Centipede. Brenda Romero, Wizardry. Roberta Williams, King’s Quest. She designed her first computer game at the kitchen table. I interviewed her for school last year.”