“There are plenty of things that a teenage boy doesn’t tell his mother. As we get older, there are more and more things we hold back, things too hard to say or too embarrassing to explain. We do this to protect our mothers as much as ourselves, because let’s face it – most of our thoughts are truly unthinkable.”
It’s 1987 and Vanna White is on the cover of Playboy magazine. Billy and his 2 best friends, Alf and Clark, want nothing more that to get their hands on one of these magazines, but being 14, they can’t just purchase one. They come up with an elaborate plan (aided by older “Bad Boy” Tyler) which involves breaking into the local office supply store to steal the magazine. Part of the plan involves seducing the daughter of the store’s owner, Mary, so they can get the security code for the alarm. Billy is drawn to Mary because of their shared love of coding, and together they decide to create a game to enter into the Game of the Year Contest for High School Programmers. His friends encourage this, because if Billy can seduce Mary, he can get the code — but Billy just wants to create games. He will have to choose who to betray, his childhood friends, or his new friend and fellow coder.
I loved being immersed in 1980’s New Jersey. The computer age was just beginning, “your mama” jokes were the rage, and Jolt Cola was a thing. We like to think the past was a simpler time, yet Billy’s life isn’t simple. Teen emotions are never simple, even without social media. He doesn’t get good grades in school, yet has managed to teach himself how to work his Commodore 64 well enough to create his first game: “Strip Poker with Christie Brinkley.” He wants to create the best game he can for the competition, finds himself drawn to Mary, even though his friends make fun of her. He doesn’t want to let his mom down, yet he doesn’t excel in the ways she appreciates. It is within all this confusion that Billy lives, just like most teenagers of any time period. When you have to decide who you really are, who you really want to be. And what you will do to stay true to yourself and what you believe. Mistakes will be made, and bad decisions are a given. Do you succumb to the pressure, or prove you can be different?
After reading this novel, I was immediately ready to rewatch “Stranger Things.” No, this doesn’t have the fantasy element of the show, nor does it have the same characters. But the feeling, the setting of the 80’s was all there. I could picture Billy and his friends being buddies with Will, Dustin, Lucas and Mike. So if 80’s nostalgia is your thing, The Impossible Fortress will not disappoint.