Quick Review: THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS by Jason Rekulak (Simon & Schuster/Faber)

An endearing tale of adolescent attraction and distraction

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.

The heist will be fraught with peril: a locked building, intrepid police officers, rusty fire escapes, leaps across rooftops, electronic alarm systems, and a hyperactive Shih Tzu named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Failed attempt after failed attempt leads them to a genius master plan — they’ll swipe the security code to Zelinsky’s convenience store by seducing the owner’s daughter, Mary Zelinsky. It becomes Billy’s mission to befriend her and get the information by any means necessary. But Mary isn’t your average teenage girl. She’s a computer loving, expert coder, already strides ahead of Billy in ability, with a wry sense of humor and a hidden, big heart. But what starts as a game to win Mary’s affection leaves Billy with a gut-wrenching choice: deceive the girl who may well be his first love or break a promise to his best friends.

I very much enjoyed this novel. The Impossible Fortress has a little bit of everything: young love, a daring heist, some mystery, and a fair amount of nostalgia. It is also very well written. If you’re looking for an amusing coming-of-age novel, then I’d recommend this. (Especially if you are in your 30s/40s…)

If John Hughes’s movies starred younger characters, you might get something like The Impossible Fortress. Or perhaps, if John Hughes had directed/written Freaks & Geeks, and focused on Sam, Neil and Bill (the younger, geekier kids in the show). The heroes of the story are outcasts — they are passionate about computing, non-athletic, and generally not interested in pursuing high school’s ideal of “cool”. Well, sort of: they want to be cool, and hang out with the cool kids, but they nevertheless seem stubbornly unable to give in to the rules of high school.

The boys’ mission to acquire the Vanna White Playboy is rather inept on almost every level. They have grand visions of pulling off a James Bond-level heist — including plans for scaling neighbouring buildings, avoiding ever-watchful dogs, and most importantly seducing an alarm code out of the daughter of the store’s owner. Three James Bonds these are not, however, and despite planning their ingress and egress rather well, Billy finds himself drawn to Mary, and reluctant to trick her in any way, let alone into giving them the alarm code. Seeing Billy and Mary get to know each other is quite fun — they’re an awkward, hesitant pair. Mary is still getting over a difficult experience (which we only fully learn about at the end of the novel), and Billy quickly forgets about his mission.

The story progresses at a fair clip, and it never felt like the momentum lagged. Rakulak is an excellent storyteller, and his characters are endearing and certainly relatable. The novel features an interesting twist towards the satisfying ending. The author’s writing is well-composed, avoids most pitfalls, and flows very nicely. There are plenty of amusing moments, often related to youthful exuberance and innocent ignorance.

I’m very much looking forward to Rekulak’s next novel. In the meantime, I’d highly recommend The Impossible Fortress.


The Impossible Fortress is published by Simon & Schuster in North America, and Faber & Faber in the UK.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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