Beartown by Fredrik Backman
Oh my goodness, this book. Absolutely loved it! But before I get into the full review, let me just say that my blogging hasn’t dropped off because I’ve forgotten to review things (mostly). It’s dropped off because I’ve barely been reading this year, thanks to my new addition. She’s just about seven months old now, and while she doesn’t share my love for complex characters and thought-out plots, let alone well-crafted writing, she does enjoy books! She loves turning the pages for herself and isn’t opposed to taking a little nibble just to make sure they really aren’t edible.
That said, now that I’ve finally been able to get to Fredrik Backman’s Beartown, I so wish that I’d gotten to it sooner. I’ve loved all of Backman’s books, and this is no exception.
“Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger. … This is the story of how we got there.” — Fredrik Backman, Beartown
And so begins one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Beartown is a hockey town. Its residents live and breathe hockey, from the youngest to the oldest, and that creates some issues for them. The whole town kind of feels like a TV high school where the football players skate by on their on-field talents and get away with pretty much everything, just on a bigger scale. But that also means that there’s a ton of drama (who ought to be the coach of this or that team? should we believe this kid’s word of that one’s simply because he’s a star? etc.), which certainly adds to the story.
But despite this book being set in a hockey town with a strong hockey element, that’s not what makes it so engrossing. There’s a non-hockey incident, one that I won’t spoil, that’s foreshadowed and hinted at until it happens. (As the publisher’s blurb says, there’s a “violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil” — and that’s all I’ll say about what happens.)
I’ll be honest — I hadn’t considered exactly what the violent act might be, and was making mental assumptions about it all the way through that turned out to be wrong.
As a hockey book, Beartown is good. The drama surrounding the junior team could have sustained the book, even without anything more. But the way Backman handled the “incident” was what really made me love this book. It wasn’t easy or glamorous or hopeful. It was realistic and shocking (but, sadly, not that shocking). It was, to put it simply, masterful.
The ensemble cast of characters significantly contributed to my love this book. I didn’t necessarily care about all of them at first, but by the end, it was really clear that all of their perspectives were valuable. I loved reading about the friendships and rivalries and family tragedies, the heartbreaks and the triumphs. I loved seeing the defining personality traits emerge from the teen characters over the course of the book, both good and bad.
The other thing about this book is that it’s timely. In 2017, when we’re questioning everything and finding out so many people aren’t who we thought they were, Beartown explores a similar idea. A girl accuses a boy of committing a violent act; a town reacts. The boy is a star hockey player, and the girl? Well, she’s just the girl accusing a beloved town athlete.
One of the quotes that really struck me was this:
“Perhaps one day the man in the black jacket will think about this too: why he only wondered if it was Kevin or Amat who was telling the truth. Why Maya’s word wasn’t enough.”
This kind of sentiment seems to define where we are as a society right now, and luckily, I think we’re starting to move in the right direction, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Beartown is a book about hockey, yes, but it’s also a book about community, family, friendships, and doing what’s right, even if that means suffering the consequences after. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and I highly recommend it to anyone. Even if you think you wouldn’t like it because of the hockey plot elements, I urge you to give it a try anyway. You won’t be disappointed.
*ARC from Atria Books via NetGalley