Book Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

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Title: Beartown

Author: Fredrik Backman

Published: April 2017

Rating: ★★★★★

Summary: Beartown is a dying town on the outskirts of a small city. The town has little to be proud of and even less as the years go by, but the one thing that brings them joy and gives focus to the whole town is the ice rink. The junior boys ice hockey team is seeking a championship, which would be a game changer for this depressed town. When a girl accuses a hockey player of a violent act, this town is torn apart with accusations. This will tell Beartown just what its made of.

My Thoughts: Let me start by saying that no words that I am capable of conjuring will be able to encapsulate just how much this book was loved by me. With that being said, here is my attempt. This book is beautiful. The writing is the absolute star in this story. Backman has a distinct, straight forward, no-nonsense style of writing that isn’t wrapped in romantic or flowery prose. But again I repeat, his writing is beautiful. His sentence construction is simple, but is incredibly effective at striking a chord. There are a series of sentences and images that he uses over and over throughout the book, shifting each time depending on the character and the time of the story. At first I was not sold on these repeating sentences, but by the end of the story I was blown away at how powerful that technique was. He also uses an active narration that gives you foreshadowing and peeks into the future of these characters. The foreshadowing kept you aware that something unfortunate was about to take place and the snippets about the future kept you hopeful. His writing is the perfect vessel to tell this story.

The book opens with a 4 sentence chapter that lays an ominous film over the entire story, something you won’t be able to get out of your head. Then it heads into building this town and introducing you to the large cast of characters. He explores their relationships and let’s you in on how those relationships form. It feels like you get a chance to live with each of these characters and see all the best and worst parts of their lives. All of these characters feel so plausible and real; you want success for everyone. As you grow attached to these characters you can’t help but remember that something bad is on its way. I was constantly trying to imagine how the opening scene of the book comes to be, always remembering that this story would not always be a slow-motion hockey game bringing a town to its feet in community. And then it happened and I was horrified. I suddenly understood all the choices Backman made in how he revealed this town to you, the dynamics of each character’s relationship to the other, and how a culture was created in the locker rooms of the ice rink. As the town comes to grips with what is being accused, I sat in horror watching the aftermath from the victim’s perspective, the perpetrator’s perspective, and the onlookers’ perspectives. I cared about all of these characters and had to come to terms with how everyone contributed to this situation. I wanted to wish that nothing had happened, that everything could be taken back, that there could be a perfectly reasonable explanation for what occurred. It was so easy to see how and why these characters reacted the way they did even as it frustrated me and made me want to shake them. I can’t say too much about what happened, but I think once you begin this book you will get a creeping feeling about the catalyst event that sets this town into chaos. This story is important and very timely for what is coming to light all over the news in the U.S. For me, it is clear that this town created a culture from the top of the ice rink chain down to the young players coming up the ranks. This culture was allowed to escape the confines of the rink and dictate each person’s role in the town and in its social structures.

I know I am falling woefully short in describing the emotions I felt while reading this book, but I hope you are able to get a sense of how meaningful I found it to be. I wasn’t a big fan of Backman’s more famous novel, A Man Called Ove, but after reading reviews and praise for Beartown I decided to give it a try and it completely blew me away. Beartown will not only be on my top books of 2018 list, but it is among the best books I have ever read. My sister clarified with me when I made that statement to her, “a book about hockey is among the best books you have ever read?” Yes! This book is about hockey, but it’s about so much more. It’s about relationships and community and dreams realized and dreams lost and family and love and loyalty. Read it!

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