By: Fredrik Backman
Format/Source: Advanced Reading Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster CA
Winning a junior ice hockey championship might not mean a lot to the average person, but it means everything to the residents of Beartown, a community slowly being eaten alive by unemployment and the surrounding wilderness. A victory like this would draw national attention to the ailing town: it could attract government funding and an influx of talented athletes who would choose Beartown over the big nearby cities. A victory like this would certainly mean everything to Amat, a short, scrawny teenager who is treated like an outcast everywhere but on the ice; to Kevin, a star player just on the cusp of securing his golden future in the NHL; and to Peter, their dedicated general manager whose own professional hockey career ended in tragedy.
At first, it seems like the team might have a shot at fulfilling the dreams of their entire town. But one night at a drunken celebration following a key win, something happens between Kevin and the general manager’s daughter—and the next day everything seems to have changed. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected. With so much riding on the success of the team, the line between loyalty and betrayal becomes difficult to discern. At last, it falls to one young man to find the courage to speak the truth that it seems no one else wants to hear.
Fredrik Backman knows that we are forever shaped by the places we call home, and in this emotionally powerful, sweetly insightful story, he explores what can happen when we carry the heavy weight of other people’s dreams on our shoulders.
I read A Man Called Ove (review) last year and greatly enjoyed it. I’ve been meaning to read his other books, but in the meantime I kindly received an advanced reading copy of his latest novel, Beartown. This book will be available on 25 April 2017.
Beartown really drew me into the story from the first page from the story of the various inhabitants of the town to Backman’s narrative. I pretty much read the novel in two nights, I just had to find out what would happen next and how everything was going to turn out. There’s just so much going on in this novel: on the outset the story is about a hockey town and how hockey is more or less the only thing that’s keeping the inhabitants going as it’s a pretty outback town where unemployment is rising and it’s more or less dead-end. Hockey permeates through the plot and many of the characters’ motivations and characterisations, but it’s never boring, even if you’re not a fan of hockey or not familiar with the sport; coming from a city where hockey is the sport, I understand much of the sentiments coming from this town.
But underneath the hockey and the teams’ goals to reach the nationals is a far more nuanced look at town life, of the community politics, of parenthood and children and growing up, of friendships and loyalties, of gender politics. The latter becomes especially prominent as the story goes on as the novel starts off looking more at the former themes that I mentioned; it still plays a role with all of the characters as the story moves on but gender does come to the forefront. It’s heartbreaking reading the aftermath and the fallout, both from the victim’s perspective of coping to the parents’ inability to do much, much as they want to. I felt for them, and I was so mad at some of the reactions of other people in the town, but the reactions I think are truthful in how people really do react to such a situation.
I don’t want to type more as that would mean typing into spoiler terrain, but suffice to say Beartown was an absorbing read. I grew to care for many of the town inhabitants and characters that the reader follows throughout the story (not all of them, there were a few that I could care less, but they played a role in the story and the perspectives presented). Thematically it touched on very important topics. I highly recommend this book, another fantastic read from Fredrik Backman! (And now I have to get around to picking up his other two novels 😛 )