July 6, 2016

It's Nice to Be Needed

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Release Date: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Atria Books
Pages: 336 pages
Source & Format: Publisher; e-ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. She eats dinner at precisely the right time and starts her day at six in the morning because only lunatics wake up later than that. And she is not passive-aggressive. Not in the least. It's just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention. 

But at sixty-three, Britt-Marie has had enough. She finally walks out on her loveless forty-year marriage and finds a job in the only place she can: Borg, a small, derelict town devastated by the financial crisis. For the fastidious Britt-Marie, this new world of noisy children, muddy floors, and a roommate who is a rat (literally), is a hard adjustment. 

As for the citizens of Borg, with everything that they know crumbling around them, the only thing that they have left to hold onto is something Britt-Marie absolutely loathes: their love of soccer. When the village’s youth team becomes desperate for a coach, they set their sights on her. She’s the least likely candidate, but their need is obvious and there is no one else to do it. 

Thus begins a beautiful and unlikely partnership. In her new role as reluctant mentor to these lost young boys and girls, Britt-Marie soon finds herself becoming increasingly vital to the community. And even more surprisingly, she is the object of romantic desire for a friendly and handsome local policeman named Sven. In this world of oddballs and misfits, can Britt-Marie finally find a place where she belongs?

Thoughts on Britt-Marie Was Here
I discovered author Fredrik Backman last year, and he quickly earned a spot on my list of favorite new-to-me authors. I enjoyed A Man Called Ove, but I fell head over heels in love with My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry. Backman's quirky writing style, curmudgeonly (but still lovable) characters and sense of humor stood out in a sea of novels and became two of my most unforgettable reads in 2015. So, when I heard he had a new book coming out in 2016 - and that it featured a character from My Grandmother... - I was thrilled!

If you've read My Grandmother..., you may remember Britt-Marie. She lives in Elsa's building, and she doesn't seem very likeable. But, as with all of Backman's characters, there's more to her than meets the eye. Once you spend a little time with her - and learn her story - she starts to worm her way into your heart. So, I picked up Britt-Marie Was Here with anticipation, excited to see how Backman would further develop this prickly woman. And while I think you might get just a bit more enjoyment out of Britt-Marie Was Here if you've read My Grandmother, it's not a requirement. This book does stand on its own.

Britt-Marie is a woman who thrives on routines and predictability. She has strong opinions and may or may not be just a little passive aggressive. If you choose to "interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms," that is. Everything in her life is in order and never changes... until, at age sixty-three, Britt-Marie leaves her husband after forty years of marriage. She's had enough. She finds a job in Borg - a small, rundown town that's been devastated by the financial crisis. The town's only bright spot is the local youth soccer team. In their desperation for a coach, the team turns to Britt-Marie - the least likely (and possibly most ill-suited) candidate ever. But what happens next is worth finding out!

Everything I enjoyed about Backman's previous books - his writing style, his sense of humor, his quirky and prickly characters, and his heartwarming themes - is present in Britt-Marie Was Here. If I had to find something that didn't quite work for me in this book, however, I'd probably point to the pace. I don't know if the book or my mood was to blame, but I wasn't dying to pick it up and finish it. I enjoyed getting to know Britt-Marie better and was intrigued by the secondary characters and setting, but I wasn't thinking about the book when I wasn't reading it. But, like I said, my mood may have been partly to blame - I was reading it while nine months pregnant, so I mostly had my baby on my mind!

One of my favorite things about this book was the theme. It was lovely to see Britt-Marie begin to feel needed - and to watch her go from an outsider to a vital part of a community. Backman does a wonderful job of illustrating why Britt-Marie acts the way she does, and I felt so much sympathy for a character who would probably drive me absolutely crazy in real life. Learning about her childhood and marriage reminded me, as Backman's books always do, that everyone has a story - whether or not you're privy to it.

If you're already a fan of Backman, you should absolutely pick up Britt-Marie Was Here! He's written a story that will make you laugh (and maybe cry) with a heroine that will surprise you. If you're new to Backman's work, this might not be the first one I'd recommend (just because it's not my personal favorite) but you really can't go wrong with any of them! Britt-Marie isn't the easiest character to love - but she's almost impossible to forget.

So Quotable
“At a certain age almost all the questions a person asks himself are really just about one thing: how should you live your life?”
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

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