Book Review: The Impossible Fortress, Jason Rekulak (2017)

February 27th, 2017 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Heck no to the plot twist.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. This review contains spoilers.)

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.

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.

(Synopsis via Goodreads)

The nostalgia factor is strong with this one, and the cheeky caper premise channels ’80s movies like whoah (think: The Goonies meets Can’t Buy Me Love). Unfortunately, Rekulak doesn’t do right by his kickass female lead, Mary – and, by extension, girls and women everywhere.

Mary is a little chubby, you see, and so courting her to gain the code to Zelinsky’s alarm system is not a job for the faint of heart. Cue the fat jokes: “She’s so fat, she shows up on radar.” “For real […] She’s so fat, her blood type is Ragu!”; etc., etc., etc. x infinity. They’re so prolific, in fact, that I came to expect an epic comeuppance for the main offenders, Billy’s BFFs Alf and Clark. But the plot twist robs us of this: Mary’s not fat, she’s just hiding her secret teen pregnancy! Once she’s given birth (and lost the baby weight, natch), it’s a-okay for Billy to date her. The fat shaming wasn’t wrong, just misplaced. Yuck.

While misogyny and fat shaming abound, homophobia and ableism also make appearances. Thanks to “a freakish birth defect,” the fingers of Clark’s left hand are fused together to form a “pincer” that’s affectionately (?) known as “The Claw.” While the guys just can’t seem to let it go, by story’s end Clark has found love in the form of Video City clerk Lynn Scott, which kinda-sorta challenges at least some of the prejudice he was forced to deal with throughout the book. In stark contrast to Mary, I should add.

As for the gay slurs, I guess we’re supposed to let those slide since they come straight from the mouth of the story’s baddie? Yet the language feels so randomly harsh that it seems to demand a stronger condemnation than it receives.

Idk, I really wanted to like The Impossible Fortress, but there was just so much about it that rubbed me the wrong way.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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