The Impossible Fortress

Author: Jason Rekulak

Read: January 2018

I’ve been reading a lot of “okay” books lately.

*THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!*

I thought this book was okay. I liked it up to a certain point and then it kind of ruined it for me. The part is near the end of the book, so I enjoyed most of this novel to begin with.

This book takes place in 1987 and it’s about a fourteen-year-old kid named Billy. He and his friends are planning to steal a Playboy edition with pictures of Vanna White from the little store in their town and they think they have it all figured out. They tried a few times and failed so they came up with a new plan.

Billy befriends the store owner’s daughter, Mary, and they get closer while creating a computer game. They work on it together in the store for an upcoming game contest held by one of Billy’s idols. There is a nicer computer in the store and the store-owner let’s them use it for sale purposes. He’s there almost everyday and Billy was supposed to get the code to the security alarm while he spent time in the store.

Secretly, Billy wanted to become Mary’s friend and get closer to her because he liked her and she was interested in computers like him. He didn’t tell his friends because they fat-shamed her and made fun of her behind her back. So, he kind of had his own agenda to do this.

I thought I’d like this book, but I had some problems with it.

*SPOILERS BELOW*

Billy never defends Mary.

His friends fat-shame Mary a lot. Billy doesn’t say anything in agreement with them but he doesn’t disagree either. He admits to himself that she’s chubby but he thinks that she’s cute. He doesn’t say any of this to his friends and let’s them make fun of her anyways. So that irritated me. At one point, Billy got into a fight with his friends because one was joking and saying that he would try to “screw it out of her” (it being the alarm code). Billy got angry with him and pushed him and then ran out. But he still didn’t really defend her.

Billy eventually fat-shames Mary.

(This is the part that made me dislike this book.)

Okay, so Billy starts liking Mary more as the book goes on. One night, he kisses her and she rejects him. At first, Mary kisses him back and then she stops him and pushes him away. (Though later he remembers the “revulsion on her face when she said I like you as a friend.” So was Mary really kissing him back or was he just imagining it? Who knows.) Billy tells Mary that he likes her and she tells him that she doesn’t feel the same way. Well, at first he’s in shock. He can’t believe that this is happening. They go their separate ways and he’s still upset but the next day he gets angry about it. Here’s the (long, sorry) passage from the book:

I knew Mary had lied to me. I didn’t imagine her little game with 50,000,000 points, with my ranking of MOST AWESOME GUY I KNOW. She’d been toying with me, leading me on, complimenting me. Making me feel good about myself. And then she acted shocked when I tried to kiss her?

I’m sorry if I gave you wrong signals.

In a flash of clarity I understood all the stories I’d heard about girls–  all the movies and TV shows and pop songs   they were all true! Girls lied. They were manipulative and untrustworthy. David Lee Roth had tried to warn me. So had Eddie Murphy! So had Andrew Dice Clay! But, like a dope, I’d rusted Mary, and gave her half of the credit for MY video game. I’d lost my two best friends   my only two friends   trying to protect her. And now here I was, alone on a Saturday morning with no one to talk to.

My mind went around and around. The fat b*tch.

It felt good to think of her that way: the fat b*tch. I took out a sheet of loose-leaf and wrote the words over and over: fat b*tch fat b*tch fat b*tch. It felt great to write it down, great to channel the anger through a pencil. Fat fat fat b*tch b*tch b*tch. No wonder all her friends ditched her! She probably lied to them, too! Fat f*cking b*tch.

[…]

I looked up at my posters of Kathy Ireland and Paulina Porizkova and Elle Macpherson, all my gorgeous and willing supermodels with their slender legs and hairless arms and pouting lips. From now on, I would set my sights on one of them like a normal person. My next girlfriend would not be ashamed to walk on the beach in a bikini. My next girlfriend would be gorgeous, a knockout, a perfect 10. And Mary Zelinsky would die a virgin   unloved, unwanted, untouched.

– The Impossible Fortress, pages 157-158

Okay. That was long and I apologize but I didn’t want to leave anything out. This part just annoyed me and made me so uncomfortable. After reading that, I didn’t care for the main character at all. And it never really gets addressed. I didn’t feel that Billy was really sorry for saying those things, or thinking those things, about Mary until he got caught for breaking into the store (explained below). The story just goes on. And it kind of just feels like all of it (getting caught and everything happening afterwards) caused him to be sorry. I don’t know. I just don’t see the point of having this in a book. I feel like it’s going too far and a little extreme.

Also, Billy still wouldn’t admit his feelings for Mary and his friends had to drag it out of him in the end. He was still embarrassed of her and his feelings for her until like fifty pages shy of the ending.

Billy thinks the only way to stop his friends from stealing from the store is to go in with them.

Listen. I don’t know why this kid is such an idiot.

Okay, so after Billy gets his feelings hurt and throws a fit about it, he decides to help his friends steal the magazine. (He actually ended up seeing Mary put in the alarm code that night he got rejected.) So his friends forgive him and he tells them that he can help them steal the Playboy because he knows the code. And then he tells them what it is. I get that he trusts his friends and he’s still angry and hurt but he’s such an idiot. Well then his friends told this other older guy who use to work at the store and who, Billy learned, was fired for shoplifting and the guy shows up to “help.” And then Billy says that they can’t do it (because that guy is dishonest and untrustworthy) and his friends  basically say that he isn’t needed anymore since they have the code. So his thought is that the only way to stop them, is to go with them and break into the store. I mean they know that there is a cop on patrol and that he’ll  be there soon so if he really wanted to stop them, he could’ve told the cop. Really? They thought the whole plan through, made a model, learned the patrol route. And he can’t think of something that simple? Ugh. That just kept picking at me when I read it.

Whatever. They all get caught and arrested. Serves them right. They’re all idiots.

Billy was sort of likeable to begin with but the list of things he did wrong just kept growing and I couldn’t handle it. I just didn’t even want redemption for this kid.

I was so unimpressed by the whole thing. It just kind of fell flat for me. I was looking forward to reading it because Kate from the Bookstore recommended it to me and she liked it and thought that I would like it. I trust her and her taste in books, but this was disappointing. I was expecting more from this book but there was just so much that annoyed me and made me uncomfortable. This was an okay book because it started out good and ended on an okay note. I wanted more from it but I was left disappointed by the entire thing.

(Also, when you step back, why is this entire book about stealing a Playboy?)

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