In a small town in North Jersey in the late 1980s, a 14-year-old boy and his Commodore 64 find love and trouble.
It all starts with the Vanna White issue of Playboy, which in the era of Tipper Gore and Jerry Falwell, “no shopkeeper in America was going to sell…to a fourteen-year-old boy.” But Billy Marvin and his two best friends, Alf (looks just like the alien Alf on TV) and Clark (incredibly handsome but with a congenitally deformed left hand), sure as hell won’t let that stop them. These are boys who have rented Kramer vs. Kramer from the video store more than a dozen times solely to fast-forward to the “fifty-three seconds of jaw-dropping full-frontal nudity” when Dustin Hoffman’s hot one-night stand gets out of bed to use the bathroom. (It’s the very best PG-13 has to offer.) The only place in town that sells Playboy is Zelinsky’s Typewriters and Office Supplies, located in the small, dying downtown. During their first attempt to get the magazine—they dress in suits and try to pass for businessmen—Billy meets Mary Zelinsky, a “fat girl” who is as obsessed with computer programming as he is. She is far more advanced. His biggest achievement so far is a game called Strip Poker with Christie Brinkley (Christie is formed from slashes, parentheses, and other symbols) while Mary has digitized the music of Phil Collins. Together, they develop a game called The Impossible Fortress to enter in a contest for young programmers. Working beside Mary is for Billy like “finger painting next to Pablo Picasso.” But while he is falling in love, Clark and Alf have developed a much more complicated and dangerous scheme for liberating the Playboy magazines. Unfortunately, the criminal caper and the big reveal that follows it aren’t believable.
Joyfully evoked with period details and pop-culture references, 1980s nostalgia is the only excuse for marketing this book to adults; otherwise, Rekulak’s debut is a middle-grade novel all the way. A good one!