Bill Marvin is a typical 14-year-old in the year 1987. When the Playboy publishes photographs of Vanna White, presenter of the famous „Wheel of Fortune“ show, Bill and his friends Alf and Clark are discussing strategies of how to buy the magazine at their age. Their master plan includes the security code to a small store owned by Mr Zelinsky. But how to get hold of it? The owner’s daughter Mary is the key. Bill is to befriend her to acquire the code from her. But when Bill gets to know Mary, he finds out that they both share the love for computer programming and that Mary is an expert in operating a C 64. She can help him to finalize his computer game The Impossible Fortress, Billy’s submission to an important competition. They more the two work on the programme, the more their mutual affection grows and Billy has already forgotten his initial mission while slowly falling in love. But then he is reminded of it and he takes an important decision.
I liked Jason Rekulak’s story immediately because the author sends you straight back into the 80s. I have rarely read a novel set in the not too far away past in which the setting is that well established and plays such an important role. It is the music played in the shop, the TV programmes the boy watch, the heroes they discuss – and especially the Stone Age of computers that made me remember the time 30 years ago. All the small bits and pieces work well together to create an authentic setting for the plot.
The characters are also well drawn and interestingly designed. Both Billy and Mary are outsiders without being the typical misfits. They are under the radar somehow, inconspicuous in a way but remarkable when you take a closer look. The nerd girl who is interested in typical boyish pastimes, the boy raised by a single mom who is clever on the one hand, but maximum negligent of school and his marks and even running the risk of having to leave high school without any degree. Seeing both of them immerse in programming, teaching themselves and pursuing their goal of the perfect programming for the computer game without realising what is happening to them, is a joy to read.
Besides the story which is convincing and quickly captivating, it is Jason Rekulak’s style of writing which I genuinely enjoyed. He has a subtle humour and a way of describing situations that made me grin more than once and adore reading the novel.
Even though the protagonists are young teenagers and the story somehow is a kind of love story, I would not call it a classic of the genre since particularly the setting could make the novel also interesting and appealing to people who remember the 80s and who would like to indulge in their memories of that time.