Updated: Mar 29, 2020
One of the incredible things that has come out of creating this blog and joining this platform is that I have met such amazing people that are quickly turning into friends. The thing that bonds us is our love of books. A few of my favorite Instagram accounts have boosted Fredrik Backman's writing and Beartown came highly recommended. I had never heard of Backman before, nor seen any of his novels, but I am so glad I stumbled across him because he is now on my list of all time favorite authors. His writing style is unique and introspective. I love the literary fiction genre because it is more than characters and a plot, it is something bigger that expands your mind and influences your view on the world.
I woke up early this morning so I could finish the last 50 pages of Beartown and I am currently extremely tempted to go buy the sequel, Us Against You. I feel incredibly invested in the town of Beartown and its residents. Backman's characters come alive on the pages and he is gifted at introducing several characters, without being confusing. Throughout the story, you meet many of the town's residents, but Backman does it in a way where it is easy to remember who is who and their relationships with one another. A character's story might last a sentence or two before switching to a different character. It made the book read incredibly easy and fast. I have to admit, it took me awhile to get used to Backman's style of writing, but after about 100 pages, I was completely hooked.
Below is the synopsis for Beartown:
"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 is so much more than a book about a small town that loves hockey. In fact, it is not about hockey at all, but is about people, community, culture, and how our actions and words influence and affect others. The banner that hangs in the Beartown hockey club reads, "Community, Values, Culture." These three ideals are in the context of the entire story. Beartown is a small Swedish town, in the middle of the forest, that does not have much to boast about, except their beloved hockey club. They are gearing up to potentially win the Nationals and this win has a lot hanging on it. If the junior boys win, they will put Beartown on the map. People will come from far away to want to play for Beartown. The town will finally start to thrive. This is immense pressure to put on the shoulders of 17 year old boys. The community fosters an environment focused around the pressure to win, keep quiet, stand up for yourself with violence, and above all else, do everything in the name of hockey. Even if that choice is not the right one to make. One of the founders of the club said it best, "culture is as much about what we encourage as what we actually permit."
The environment this town creates fosters a culture where a horrible, violent act occurs and instead of defending the victim, people choose sides and make assumptions, essentially turning the perpetrator into the victim. It is devastating to read how this unfolds, but also incredibly eye opening. This book does have some triggers and I want to give a trigger warning for people that are sensitive to sexual assault. In this day and age, sexual assault seems to be talked about more openly and victims are being believed more frequently, but as society as a whole, we have a long way to go. When an allegation is made, there are still many people that question the validity and reality of the situation and the reliability of the victim. This is done as opposed to taking the victim's statement at face value and letting the justice system prevail, while being sensitive to the victim. This book touched on so many themes, but the one revolved around the hesitation of sexual assault victims to come forward was one that was glaring for me.
I highly recommend Beartown and am adding it to my list of favorite books for the year. I give it ★★★★★. I look forward to reading more novels from Fredrik Backman. His talent is undeniable.