I was surprised that I enjoyed this one.
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. (Goodreads)
I believe I requested The Impossible Fortress from a giveaway listed in a Shelf Awareness newsletter and didn’t pay attention to the description of the story when I did so. I say this because in addition to being surprised when I received the book in the mail, I was also a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to connect with the story.
The story is set in 1987, a year before I was born. I know little of the 1980s and since this story seems like it will include many pop culture references from that time, I thought I would feel lost as I read. But my worries were superfluous. There were some pop culture references in the story, but they didn’t appear so frequently to prevent me from enjoying the novel.
“My mother was convinced I’d die young.”
I was hooked from the first sentence. The story is narrated by an older, more mature version of our protagonist Billy Marvin, whose voice held me captive throughout. We quickly learn about his living situation — poor, but comfortable with a single mom — and his standing among his peers at school — unpopular. His only friends, Alf and Clark, are likewise unpopular: Alf is said to resemble the puppet that shares his name; and Clark is attractive but very self-conscious because the fingers of his left hand are fused together into a “crab-like pincer.” The boys spend their days hanging out after school at Billy’s house since his mom works late; but in his free time, Billy also enjoys building video games, which comes in handy when they decide to procure a copy of Playboy from a shop in their conservative community.
The majority of story’s entertainment comes from the boys’ attempts to get the magazine. The boys concoct a variety of hijinks plans, each more outlandish than the one before, that always go awry. However, as funny as I found these, I sometimes got annoyed that the characters don’t seem to learn from their past mistakes.
Actually, apart from Billy, the characters don’t show much development. I’m mainly thinking of Alf and Clark here. They spend so much time around Billy that we tend to focus on them as well; but while we see Billy mature, Alf and Clark continue to make the same choices and mistakes over and over again. Sure this is comedic and fits the story’s light tone, but after a while it began to seem repetitious and annoying like their plans.
Mary, however, is an exception. For one of the boys’ many schemes, Billy has to seduce the shopkeeper’s daughter, Mary, into helping them break in and get a copy of the magazine. However, Billy falls in love with Mary and later has doubts about tricking her. Mary is a likable character. She is quirky and geeky and is unapologetic about her avid interest in gaming and coding. I enjoyed reading about her and Billy steadily growing fonder of each other and expressing their feelings through the games they build together. However, there were times when Mary’s interactions with Billy were awkward and made me confused about her intentions. The reason why is a major plot twist that I wasn’t too crazy about, but I liked the change in Mary’s character afterward because we then realize how stressed she was by her situation.
Though I enjoyed the little quest the boys went on so that Billy could regain Mary’s favor (it’s hilarious because of how similar it is to fairytale quest), I thought that portion went on for too long and could have been shortened. However, I do like that despite all that has happened, Billy’s affections for Mary remained the same.
A major thing Rekulak did that I loved was showing how much computer technology has advanced since the late 1980s. My favorite part of the book was when Billy mentions how long it would take Mary to respond to his email: “electronic mail conversations often stretched over weeks or even months. It was like casting a message in a bottle; there was no way of knowing when she’d receive it.”
Overall: ★★☆☆☆ 1/2
The story was enjoyable, but it was just an okay read. The plot was repetitious in some spots and drawn out in others and some characters could use more development.
The 80s references don’t get in the way of the story so if you’re not an 80s baby, don’t worry that you’ll be lost while reading it.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
I don’t read many YA contemporary novels, but I think if you enjoyed Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, then you’ll probably enjoy this as well. The stories aren’t similar in any way, however the humor in both can be distasteful to some folks. I didn’t mind it.