I did not know how much I needed The Impossible Fortress when I picked it up yesterday evening. I had this sinking feeling of despair and the book I was reading was in an unhappy place and I wanted something to lift my mood. I picked up The Impossible Fortress, started at the first chapter and fell quickly and deeply in love with the quirky nerd Billy Marvin.

Billy is one of those kids of whom teachers and administration despair. He’s unlucky enough to be born before people in education realized that computer skills were important and meaningful. He spends his time thinking of how to write computer games, neglecting his course and failing. For the people who make the decisions, though, that does not compute.

It’s the 80s and Playboy has just published the famous issue featuring Vanna White. Billy and his friends obsess over the idea of getting their own copy, but the only ones for sale in their town are safely behind the desk and Zelinsky’s and he won’t be selling to any minors. They dream up this idea of getting a copy, photocopying the photos and selling them and making a lot of money. Unfortunately, the one soliciting the investments and holding the money loses it, making it imperative they succeed at their caper as there is no way to pay the money back if they fail.

Billy takes on the last of getting the alarm code to Zelinsky’s by romancing his daughter Mary, less out of serious desire to carry out their ridiculous caper, but more out of a personal connection he felt for Mary, Zelinsky’s slightly zaftig daughter. They had all gone into Zelinsky’s to try to appear old enough to buy the magazine and in talking to Mary, Bill found a fellow nerd.

Together Mary and Billy begin working on Billy’s game The Impossible Fortress in hopes of winning a high end computer in a contest, but during their hours of work, their friendship grows. Billy is even falling for her a little bit and all the urging of his increasingly desperate friends to get that code divides his loyalties. Billy desperately wants to do the right thing by everyone and there’s no way out.


Jason Rekulak created a web-based version of Mary and Billy’s game that you can play. It will feel like playing on an old Commodore. I have never used a Commodore, but it definitely feels like early, early games. It also feels very much like Billy’s odyssey near the end of the book. He really does have to storm a fortress.

I loved this book and not just because I read it on a day when I really needed it. I love the humor and the humanity of it. I love how completely it places us into the 80s, the powerful sense of place…particularly during that grueling effort by Charlie and his friends to reach their own impossible fortress. I love the celebration of geekdom, the unapologetic love of games and computers and friendship that animate this wonderful book. It’s heartwarming without sentimentality, funny without cruelty and engaging without artifice. I hope you put it on your list because I know you will love it.

The Impossible Fortress will be released on February 17, 2017. I received an Advance Reader’s Copy from Simon & Schuster in a Shelf Awareness drawing.