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The Impossible Fortress

Review

The Impossible Fortress

Back in the 1980s, the term “nerd” became the nomenclature of something more than those guys we used to meet at MIT with the pocket protectors and the peeling piece of tape holding their black glasses together at the nose. Yes, stereotypes come from real places, and if they had a logo, a picture of one of those young men would have been it. However, along came the world of high technology, personal computers and the worldwide web, and the “nerds” who created this new revolution were Roman gladiators, slaying the Luddite dragons and getting everyone to log on and be happy about it.

THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS takes us back to those halcyon years, when Space Invaders was the coolest game and Vanna White (huh?) was haunting the private dreams of schoolboys…if not everywhere, then in the New Jersey that Jason Rekulak lovingly recreates in his debut novel.

"...a fun, fast read...  Rekulak doesn’t dive into the depths of teenage angst in quite the same melodramatic way [as John Green], which makes the story more enjoyable and, personally speaking, easier to get through."

In a nice twist on the boys using a hapless girl to help them enact some ridiculous scheme, THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS gives us a plan that requires the befriending of a girl whose dad owns the convenience store where the Playboy containing naked pictures of Vanna White resides. But this girl is not average teen material; Mary Zelinsky is a computer genius who loves coding and creates her own games. Billy Marvin finds that she is more than he bargained for --- funny, intelligent, kind and giving. And so, as the plan begins its rollout, he must decide between the girl who might be his first love and the best friends who are depending on him to deceive her so they can get their hands on their object of desire.

The book even brings to life a small dog named after the Terminator himself and gives the young protagonists every opportunity to mine the craziness and wonder of the teen years to an ’80s soundtrack of cultural iconic moments.

The love story is the most affecting. The discovery that the girl who Billy has to befriend and deceive turns out to be his soul mate makes for a very compelling and sweet tale of first love and all the complications that come with it.

Rekulak spends a lot of time mining details about the ’80s with references to everything from Howard Stern to The Witches of Eastwick, the Commodore 64 and Beetlejuice. If you grew up in the era, you’ll love the environment he so deftly recreates. If you’re a young reader, you’ll have a lot of Wiki-research to do to get some of the references. But no matter what the time period, there are some timeless connections between teens that have existed since the beginning of time.

THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS is a fun, fast read that would make a great accompaniment to The Goonies, if a couple of those adventurers hit puberty and took their scheming to a whole new level. There will be the usual references to John Green here, but Rekulak doesn’t dive into the depths of teenage angst in quite the same melodramatic way, which makes the story more enjoyable and, personally speaking, easier to get through. There is a wistfulness here that won’t make you sob, which is kind of nice since real life is depressing enough these days.

If you have teens, start a family book club, and read and discuss THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS. Then take some time to play the faux-8-bit adaptation of the game from the book. It’s fun for the whole family. Seriously!

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on March 10, 2017

The Impossible Fortress
by Jason Rekulak

  • Publication Date: February 7, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1501144413
  • ISBN-13: 9781501144417