Where does one begin when it comes to describing an author whose books constantly amaze you to the point you cannot easily put them down for any reason other than an emergency? Fredrik Backman has struck gold with the second book in the Beartown series, Us Against You. After I survived a book daze last year with the series debut, I read another of his works which catapulted Backman into my top 5 of favorite authors. Once I learned he had written a second book in the Beartown series (they are all translated from Swedish) recently, I had to read this next one… and his publisher, Atria, contacted me to see if I was interested. How lucky can a guy get? When I finished it, Backman is now sitting pretty, completely unreachable for a good while, in my top 3 all-time favorite authors.
At first I was a little worried, I must admit. I’m not a big sports fan, and while I loved the first book, could I really become immersed in hockey again? I worked at Madison Square Garden for 10+ years and spent many a night with NY Rangers fans and players. Once I started reading the new book, I also realized the first 15% was a re-hash of the earlier book. It’s extremely well-written, so it was easy and smooth, but what did that mean for the rest of the novel? Well that concern quickly disappeared because enter a smooth-talking politician playing games in the background to re-ignite the flames between Hed and Beartown all in the name of getting himself more power. All the earlier characters are back in action, fighting to save the Beartown hockey team, protect Maya AND Kevin (her rapist). What??? What’s wrong with people is all I have to say. The words on the pages truly push readers to ask a simple question. Is the attack of one girl worth losing someone who could save an entire town from bankruptcy and possible dismay. Hopefully we all think FIRST about poor Maya, but then you wonder: Do you allow 1 person to keep suffering all in the name of saving the rest? Should the Anderssons just leave Beartown and start over, despite never having done anything wrong? It’s questions like this that plague you as you read the book — yet never ONCE does any character actually ask that. It’s all subtle. And I’m not weighing in with my opinion as it’s fiction… all meant to transport us to a world of torment and shock.
Enter my favorite character, Benji. He’s tragic. He’s powerful. He’s weak. He’s lost. He’s yearning for something he can’t control. He is trapped between right and wrong. The story focuses on him this time in the same respect as it did Maya last time. While he’s not attacked in the same way as she was last time (as he’d kill anyone who tried to hurt him), Benji is abused on so many more levels. But don’t worry, he gives back just as much as he gets, and that’s why I adore him. He makes mistakes, but he fixes them. He hides, but he’s got a plan to emerge more victorious. He loves his sisters and is an honorable man (boy? he’s 17/18) we all should respect. But he’s gay, and well, you know what that means: Beartown can’t support him. Hed will do everything to hurt him. They constantly chant “Fags. Whores. Rapists.” Yet deep down, you know they all want to support him. I’m not giving away any spoilers, as we learned he was gay in the first book. I just didn’t expect the second to focus on him.
Yet Backman nearly killed me about 2/3 through when disaster happens and I thought for a moment, I can’t finish this book. After what he’s done to Benji, I’m just done. But I trudged on and I’m so glad I did. I can’t think of another author right now who can let me down and build me up so many times in a book… to the point where they could be talking about hockey or pencils and I still feel a passion I rarely feel in life about most things outside of books. I want Beartown to win. I want Peter to get his dignity back. I want the new coach to prove women can be better than men at things. I want it all… and Backman delivers it all — just never in the way I expect.
Someone loses. A few people actually. And it’s harsh. You will cry. You will throw the book. But you will pick it up again because it’s become part of you. This must become a movie. I will be the first in line to watch it, and I don’t often go to the movies.
There’s very little to dislike in this book. You may hate certain characters, but they make you love the story all that much more. You might disagree with a plot line, but it will lead you to the right ending. You may want to strangle a few teenagers, and honestly, it may be okay in this instance. I’m not advocating killing kids, but there are just some people who need to be punished for the things they say or do . (Don’t quote me on that!!!)
I’m really left with… PLEASE give us a third book of equal power and humility. I will do anything.
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.
4.5 out of 5 stars to Beartown, a 2016 contemporary novel by Fredrik Backman. Although the book had a bit of a difficult start for me, it developed into an emotionally-charged hot bed, triggering anger and frustration over so many things about the human race… and I’m quite glad I read it and enjoyed it. But wow… I haven’t a visceral emotional reaction to words like this in a very long time.
Why This Book
Beartown began showing up on a few of my Goodreads’ friends book lists earlier this year, intriguing my interest. I read the overview and saw many comments that “although the premise is all about a junior hockey team, it’s so much more.” I had a hard time believing that to be true, but thought it might be worth a chance if I could get it from NetGalley. And then I was approved to read it in early April. It took me a few weeks to find the right time in my reading schedule, but it all fell into place last week when I finally took on the book.
Overview of Story
Beartown is a very small town in the middle of a forest far away from everywhere else. It was once bigger and stronger, but the economy has pushed it further and further down a hole — to the point where all they have left is the possibility of a good junior hockey team in the future. Everyone in the town gets involved to some degree, either playing, supporting or raising the players who range from 13 to 17 years old. It’s the place where agents sometimes go to find the next great star of the professional leagues.
But the lack of resources and funding has led to a bitter passion among the residents, who seem to stop at almost nothing to ensure their kids have an opportunity to win their games. Some of the residents are fair and honest. Some are rude and malicious. It’s a typical American sports town, breeding team camaraderie, fueled in some cases by hatred and anger, but in a few others, promoting acceptance and tolerance.
Each of the key team members (8 to 10) has a personal story. Each of the parents and coaches has a vision. Rivalries and favoritism shine all around. And with each passing game, the school must decide what side of the coin they’re on… supporting the team and accepting hockey will always comes first, before education, or fighting back to keep a fair balance. But when someone is attacked, sides must be taken within the school, the team, the hockey league and the town.
It’s a story about hope, control, loss, jealousy, anger, and desire. It’s about parenting styles. It’s about looking the other way for the sake of long-term goals, despite what you may be letting someone get away with in the short term. It’s about how people treat one another. And in so many cases, it is not the way it should be.
Approach & Style
Beartown is told by an omniscient narrator who can look into any character’s head at any moment.
It’s told in the present tense with a few small reflections on the past.
Point of view changes and hops around within chapters, defined by a few spaces between paragraphs.
It’s mostly short sentence structure and paragraphs. Told the way people speak.
1. I am not a big sports fan. I played on a soccer and baseball team when I was younger. And I worked for a sports arena for nearly 20 years. But I have never been interested in hockey. And while the story is too focused in the beginning on the pertinent parts of the sport and rules, it generally has a very good approach to building a fever for the team among us readers. When an author can do that, it’s a strong book.
2. The characters are fairly vivid, each representing a difference slice of life and personality. You will like a few. You will hate many of them. It’s another good thing when an author can deliver this level of emotion. As an example, Maggan Lyt supports her son no matter what he has done. And she’s rude to everyone, lies, believes her own lies and has no sense of morality. She wasn’t a huge part of the story, but she is the epitome of what I hate about what sports can do to a kid. She’s the worst kind of mother and should have been taught a bigger lesson. (I rarely go off on topics, especially like this… but she is what is wrong with so many things right now about how people behave in this world…)
3. The setting is described nearly perfectly. You feel the despair. You see the emptiness. You can tell it’s a freezing cold pit of fear.
4. Views are told from everyone’s angle. And even though you will have pure hatred for some of the people, part of you has a small understanding of why they do what they do. You won’t accept it or like it, but you can see how it happened in Beartown. And you will wonder if that’s what’s happening in so many other towns across the country.
Open Questions & Concerns
During the first 60 to 75 pages, I was a little frustrated at the focus on hockey as a sport the town rallied around. It was slightly boring and difficult to connect. I trudged through, reading 75 pages the first night and the second night. By the third night (last night). I was 35% through and starting to feel that intense sensation where you just don’t want to put the book down, and I finished the last 300 pages all in one sitting (in bed). Intense because I was so angry at the people, the actions and their beliefs. It made me feel sorrow for any town who focuses on sports as the center of their life. I’ve always thought high school sporting teams were full of nonsense. I don’t want to alienate any readers of the book or even my reviews… but I really have to ask the question… Do school sports breed teamwork or do they breed arrogance and nasty habits of accepting things just because you’re on the same team? I’m sure there are good examples of a team building positive traits in children… but this was not one of them. When they’re proud to have injuries… when they support someone who has clearly done something bad because they are on the same team… when they use derogatory language in a locker room because it helps create a bond… that’s not teamwork. That’s humanity at its worst… that’s people thinking they are above others because they have some physical talent for playing a sport. I have little if any tolerance or patience for people like that. Even when I played on teams, sure, I bought into the “rah, rah, let’s win” concept. But the second it crosses that line and because a situation where it’s just bad behavior or the thoughts of the uninformed and lazy, ridiculous politics of small minds, I wish they’d all go straight to hell in a hand-basket. And that’s how this book made me feel – it conjured up those feelings…. and it was really well done. It hit all the hot spots I have about awful sports parents, horrible team members who think they can do anything because they’re a “hero.”
I couldn’t push this up to a 5 for a few reasons:
1. Some of the characters felt too similar / duplicate. I had a bit of a hard time distinguishing them from one another, e.g. which parent is that, what happened to that kid before the game? It could have been a little tighter in this area.
2. I’m a bit unclear on the ending… it was like there were 2 possible versions… and I wanted to know exactly what happened. It also didn’t feel like every character had a proper ending… a few open issues left for me.
Author & Other Similar Books
I haven’t read any other sports-themed books, so I don’t have anything to compare it to from that perspective. But as far as the intensity of your anger or hatred for some of the characters… I would liken it to how I felt about James K. Morrow‘s The Philosopher’s Apprentice.
I’ve ranted a bit here. It’s a powerful book. It showcases many of the fears I have about a good portion of the country. I’m all for team spirit and finding hope in an activity when there seems to be nothing else available; however, if this is a commentary on what it’s like for many towns across the world… my fears are justified. And when a book can share and show that… it’s a really strong one… and worth the read.
P.S. No offense intended to anyone who is a big sports fan, sports parents or sports player themselves. The anger I felt in reading this book is for the negativity steaming off all the wrong things about sports and how they make people act. I’m all for a positive, character-building team sport where the intensity is on the field… and the only thing left off the field is friendship, fair and honest support and an ability to know when to draw the line.
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.