cover image The Impossible Fortress

The Impossible Fortress

Jason Rekulak. Simon & Schuster, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5011-4441-7

Infused with 1980s music, pop culture, and plenty of the BASIC computer programming language, Rekulak’s debut offers a charmingly vintage take on geek love, circa 1987 in New Jersey. Fourteen-year-old Billy Marvin’s aspiration is to be a premier video game designer. When Billy and his friends’ plans to obtain the desirable Vanna White issue of Playboy from a local stationery shop backfire, Billy meets his match in the owner’s daughter, Mary, a brilliant computer programmer. She and Billy join forces to improve Billy’s flawed game designs in the hopes of winning a contest. Billy’s embarrassed to admit his attraction to somewhat chubby Mary, instead allowing his friends to believe he’s just using her to get close to Vanna. The interplay between Billy and his loser friends is amusing, and Mary’s character—quietly excelling at what’s viewed as a boy’s pastime—is sympathetically drawn. A late-in-the-game caper to penetrate an Impossible Fortress (Mary’s girls-only Catholic school) ups the ante. Rekulak’s novel will have readers of a certain age waxing nostalgic about Space Invaders and humming Hall and Oates, but it’s still a fun ride that will appeal to all. (Feb.)