'This is the story of how we got there.'

It only took one book for Fredrik Backman to become one of my all-time favorite authors. I've read  and loved My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, A Man Called Ove and Britt-Marie Was Here. So, there's no excuse for the fact that it took me more than a year to read Beartown. It was always there, in the back of my mind, but I kept putting it off. The sports-focused summary didn't appeal to me, but I knew that the book would be a character study. And from the first two sentences, I was hooked:
Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else's head, and pulled the trigger.

This is the story of how we got there.
It's hard for me to articulate all the reasons I loved this book. I supposed I should start with the fact that Backman was born to tell stories. Every word and phrase seems to be chosen with such care. And you know what's hard for me to wrap my mind around? His books are translated into English! If it wasn't printed on the book's title page, I would never guess. I have so much appreciation for this translator, Neil Smith, because he makes it feel seamless.

Backman's previous books contained more humor and whimsy, and the tone of this one was a departure. But, for me, the writing still felt so consistent with what I've come to know and love about his work. Rather than focus on one main character, as he has in the past, a place is the character at the heart of this story. Beartown is in the middle of nowhere and has almost nothing to show for itself. Except for its junior hockey team. 

This small town lives and breathes hockey... and probably dreams of it while they sleep, too. I'm not a sports person, but I was still swept up in this narrative. Backman helps you understand why hockey is revered, how it has come to represent so much more than a game, and the way it's holding the town together. So, what happens when something happens that rips that community in two? That's what Backman explores in this novel.

I don't want to spoil what happens to change everything, but I will say that it's devastating. Backman focuses on numerous characters, something that I normally dislike. But it felt so necessary for this story, and I'm thankful he wrote it this way. You'll get to know some of the key team members, fellow students, parents, politicians, business owners, and local bullies. Some of the characters are central to the entire story, and others have brief roles to play. All serve a purpose and are complex and richly drawn. If you love character-driven stories, this is for you.

What I loved most about this book is that it made me think. It's been a month since I finished, and I can still feel my mind drifting to some of the questions raised in this book. Do sports teach teamwork  and selflessness or breed groupthink and entitlement? How do you choose to react in the present to something that threatens your future? When an accusation is leveled against someone, who do you believe? What does it mean to be loyal?
“There are few words that are harder to explain than 'loyalty.' It's always regarded as a positive characteristic, because a lot of people would say that many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.”
Beartown is an emotionally draining read, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. I honestly loved everything about it! It's about so much more than a town obsessed with sports. It's timely and relevant to the world today, but I can see it being just as impactful a hundred years from now. Technology marches on, but human nature stays the same. And Backman explores the best and worst of what it means to be a parent, a coach, a friend, a teammate, and a sibling in these pages. I can't get these characters out of my brain, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Whether this is your first and fourth Backman, I hope I've convinced you to read it! This was on my list of best books I've read so far in 2018, and I know it will be on my final list at the end of the year. It's stunning, heartbreaking, and unforgettable. It further cemented Backman's place on my "auto-buy" list, and I cannot begin to tell you how many lines I marked in these pages. Nothing I've read in the weeks since I finished this has compared... until I got to the sequel, Us Against You. I'll be sharing my thoughts on that one tomorrow!

So Quotable
“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn't through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.”
Release Date: April 2017 | Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Atria Books
Pages: 418 pages | Source & Format: NetGalley/Kindle & Hardcover/Bought

* I received a copy of each book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the books or my review.

1 comment

  1. Even if Beartown was already previously on my radar, I definitely want to get to it (when I'm in the right headspace, of course) in 2020! It sounds like it's going to be really compelling and thought-provoking, and I do like the potential I sense for loving a book like that.


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