The Impossible Fortress, by Jason Rekulak (2017)

The Impossible Fortress by Jason RekulakFirst up, The Impossible Fortress is an old-school computer game, created on a Commodore 64, in hopes of winning a contest and the coveted top prize of an IBM PS/2. (It features a 16-bit processor!) Remember those? How about the TRS-80, fondly recalled today as the Trash 80? This young adult novel is a delightful romp through the pop culture and early home computing history of the late 1980s, featuring appearances by Bruce Hornsby and Christie Brinkley, dial-up modems and Compuserve electronic mail, video rentals and IBM Selectric. But the most coveted item in the lives of 14-year-olds Billy Marvin and his best friends Alf and Clark is the latest Playboy magazine. They are desperate to get their hands on it. It features Vanna White, and everyone’s talking about her bum and boobs. But no one will sell a Playboy to 14-year-old boys, leaving the trio to come up with one failed scheme after another. They finally hit on a plan to break into Zelinsky’s and help themselves, leaving the money in the till. But as the store is alarmed, they need the code, and so they plan to woo Zelinsky’s daughter Mary into giving up the code. Billy volunteers, but he has an ulterior motive. Mary is smart. Really smart, and a computer geek like him. She knows how to code way better than he can, and when he shows her his draft computer game, she immediately identifies a solution to the game’s lagging speed. The two decide to work together on improving it and enter it in a contest for teen programmers. This, of course, gives Billy time to figure out a way to get the code. But as he and Mary collaborate on the game, he finds himself in the predictable dilemma – betray his friendship with Mary, or let down his best friends. As others have noted, the 80s setting rings quite true, and may be over the heads of the intended teen audience. They can ask their parents, I guess! Character development is solid, and I liked that even the adults changed throughout this book. Alf and Clark were largely missing from the action in the middle of the book, and I missed them.There is plenty of humour, which brings me to my one complaint. The fat jokes, along with one particularly nasty joke about AIDS, are hard to read with a modern outlook. I’ve always said the streets were meaner in the 70s and 80s – it feels like this book has proven me right. But it’s still unsettling to see kids be so cruel. There is a surprise plot twist at the end I didn’t see coming at all. I did find some aspects quite predictable, which took away some of the pleasure of this coming of age novel, but it’s not likely to be a problem for most teen readers. My thanks to publisher Simon and Schuster for the advance reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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