The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream—and the price required to make it come true.
People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.
Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.
Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.
Song For This Book: The Hockey Song by Stompin’ Tom Connors
Why? Though maybe I should have picked a more serious song for this book, this one covers the importance of hockey in this book far too well.
I received an advance copy of this book from Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve read a couple of other books by Backman, so when I heard this book was coming out, I knew instantly that I wanted to read it. Especially after My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes, which took a hard topic and made it accessible and easy to read, I was immediately intrigued by the event that takes place in this book to rock the hockey town. And holy macaroni, did Backman deliver.
I don’t generally get emotional about books. But this book was so frustrating. Not because it was bad, or the author was making a mess of it, but because of the story itself and how much I disagree with some of the characters on a moral level. This is a hard book to read, because it isn’t the pretty picture we like to see in books of bad situations. It’s real, and it’s scary, and the characters worm their way into your heart until you start hurting when they do.
The Good Points of Beartown:
The first thing I really want to point out is how good the translation is. I’ve read a fair few translated books, and it often feels like something gets lost in the translation and it’s harder to connect with the story once it’s changed languages. But whomever translated Beartown did an amazing job. Definitely one of the best I’ve come across.
The writing is also exquisite. There are so many beautiful lines and amazing quotes in this book that I promise you’ll fall in love with, on just about every theme you can imagine.
I won’t say too much and spoil the story, but this book takes a really hard topic and forces the characters in the story as well as the reader to try and sort out where they stand on the topic. There’s no glossing over anything, and there are no rose coloured shades. It’s probably the first real depiction of the subject matter I’ve come across in books, and thank goodness, because it’s not something we should be sugar-coating. Kudos to Backman for not going easy on his characters.
I love all the characters in this book, even the ones that were kind of awful. They were all so well rounded and so developed that you feel like you could be a resident of Beartown as well. They feel like your neighbours and friends, which is quite the feat considering the sheer number of them and the 400 and some pages of this book.
The way that Backman paces this book is great. It’s long, there are tonnes of characters, and there’s a lot going on. But somehow, Backman pulls it all together in a way that you don’t get bogged down with one thing or another, jumps between parts of the story without leaving you hanging or sticking you with one situation or other too long.
The Downsides of Beartown:
There are a million and one characters in this book, which is a bit confusing early on. You mix up which kid is which and which adult belongs to which kid. You figure it out by about halfway through the book, but it’s a lot right off the bat.
The beginning is a bit slow. All the stuff that happens in the early chapters is super important later on, and you appreciate it when you get there, but it does drag a bit. Even a bit of foreshadowing would have helped in the first hundred pages, just to keep you hooked in a little more.
All in all, Beartown is an incredible read that you tear your heart to shreds, play on your emotions, and make you question your own beliefs and morals. I’ve never read a book that left me more angry, but in the best possible way. If you’re looking for a book that forces you to think and reconsider, know what it’s like to grow up and live in a small town, love the culture that surrounds sports, and/or aren’t afraid of heavy, serious topics, you’ll probably love this book. It’s one that everyone should read.
I may actually end up doing another post related to this book, because I have a lot of thoughts, but don’t want to be including a bunch of spoilers in this review. And I’m not sure if I can rant about the things I want to without giving away some details about the story.
Beartown hits the shelves on April 25th! Find it on Book Depository.