Book Reviews

Beartown by Fredrik Backman – Book Review

A photo of the book Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Warning – possible spoilers! (Tiny ones, though, and I’ll try to avoid even those; I swear I’ll give my best not to ruin it for you… :-))

Beartown by Fredrik Backman – Book Details

TITLE – Beartown

SERIES – Beartown, book #1

AUTHOR – Fredrik Backman

GENREliterary fiction, contemporary, sports

YEAR PUBLISHED – 2016

PAGE COUNT – 489

MY RATING – 5 of 5

RATED ON GOODREADS – 4.25 of 5

Initial Thoughts

I feel a bit late to the party with this one. It was published a few years ago, and all this time I’ve been hearing ravings about it from my friends and fellow book bloggers. It was on my TBR for quite a while and I’ve finally gotten around to reading it a few weeks ago.

All I can say is – I can’t believe I didn’t read this book sooner!

Why? Why wouldn’t I want to have something like this in my life?

Beartown won me over from the very start. The writing was so simple and effortless, it felt innocent. It’s crazy how small things Backman can make incredibly touching.

Now, I knew before reading it what the book was all about. And ever since I started reading it, all I could think was – I really, really don’t want it to happen. I’ve grown attached to the characters faster that I could imagine. Knowing what was coming almost made me put down the book.

Except – you can’t really put down a Backman. He writes about humanity, flaws, fears and hope in such a way that makes you feel connected with the world and people.

I was around 40 pages in when I knew this book was going to break my heart a bit. I just knew it. He prepares you for it. Gives you little clues along the way.

But Backman is also a kind of writer to whom you can trust he will put it back together…

What It Is About

A quote from Beartown by Fredrik Backman - “The easiest way to unite a group isn't through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.”

Beartown is a small forest town somewhere in Sweden. It is getting smaller and smaller each year, as there are less and less jobs and not many things that would attract new people and investors. But one thing gives the locals hope in a better tomorrow – hockey.

A lot of responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Beartown’s junior ice hockey team. The approaching finals brings a lot of hope but it also creates extreme tension. Parents, classmates, club members, business sponsors… Who you are today and who you are going to be tomorrow – it all depends on how you play in semi-finals.

Everything, including justice and morality, comes second on a night like this.

When a 15 year-old girl becomes a victim of a violent act, it puts the whole community to a test. This is a story about what it really means to be a part of a pack and how much courage it takes to stand on your own for what you believe in.

(I’m not gonna go into any specific details here because I don’t want to spoil it for you. But do check trigger warnings for this book if there is anything specific you want to avoid.)

Beartown by Fredrik Backman – My Review

Beartown became one of my favorite books of all time. So I knew writing this review is going to be challenging for me – though I wouldn’t mind gushing about it all day long, there are only so many ways you can say “It was amazing.”

Beartown is one of those books that seem pretty easy to describe, yet I feel whatever I say, I won’t be able to draw you a full picture of why you really, really need to read this book.

Basically, something horrible happens in this small, isolated, hockey-obsessed town. And the book describes the reaction of townspeople to this event.

I’m trying to be really careful while reviewing this book. I don’t want to scare off someone who’s trying to avoid deep, sad, heartbreaking tales. I’m also usually trying to avoid books that can make me cry. But I’ve loved this one so much, it would be a real shame if I’d skipped it.

Beartown has its heartbreaking moments, but it is so much more than a sad book. It is filled with so many amazing things, like love, family, loyalty, devotion, warmth, small acts of kindness and so much hope – it can make you laugh and cry at the same time.

Backman handles sensitive, difficult topics in a way I’ve never seen before. Everything was done in such a quiet voice that still somehow managed to get louder and clearer than a scream.

This book talks about right vs. wrong, violence, justice, community, fears, dreams, culture, integrity, privilege, pressure, prejudices, misjudgment, silence, authority, family, decisions, belonging, winners, losers, hope, loneliness, loyalty, betrayal, forgiveness…

All of that is tackled in one way or another, yet you never feel overwhelmed or like too much is going on.

I usually prefer books written from a single perspective, but in this case many, many POVs were much needed to fully paint the story. Everyone handles the situation differently. Everyone has to decide for themselves what is truly important to them. Each new perspective changes your own opinion a little bit.

It is ridiculous after how little interaction you start to feel affection for these people. So quickly you feel like you know who they are and what they are like. You get to know them while they are still whole and innocent. You root for them to make the right decision. And when they don’t, it strikes really hard.

I also loved how the characters were presented in relation to one another. So you often get two very different people coming to the same conclusion, or two very similar people end up being very different in their essences.

I am not gonna say that I liked the violence in this book, but I definitely loved how it was presented. It got me frightened for sure. It made me feel all the helplessness and frustration of an individual who’s trying to do something against the wishes of a much larger, stronger, ruthless crowd.

I also loved how Backman used hockey as a tool to bring people’s strengths and weaknesses to the surface. I am not a huge sports person, but in Beartown hockey is so much more than a sport. It is this hovering, ever present thing that reveals people’s true colors and affects their decisions sometimes more than their families could.

Hockey is what makes this group of people a community. And one of the major questions this book asks is what it really means to be a part of a community. What would you give up to belong?

One of the things Backman does extremely well is the use of repetition. Usually, if a book is repetitive, it gets old real quick and just starts to annoy me. But Backman uses repetition intentionally and very skillfully to emphasize and give weight to what he’s trying to say.

He also uses it very diversely. Sometimes it is just a simple bang bang bang bang bang that sets the atmosphere and means different things to different people. Other times he will say something that sounds quite simple and innocent, then remind you of it later on when certain events give those words a much different meaning.

I have no words to describe how well written Beartown is. I wanted to cry and scream and burn this book and read it again. It made me angry, and sad, and so frustrated. But is also gave hope and a sense that – everything is going to be alright.

This book made me think a lot about Backman himself. How do you sit down and write a story like this?

It also made me think – thank God there’s a sequel. I am not ready to say goodbye to some of these characters just yet…

My Signature

MORE BY FREDRIK BACKMAN: THE DEAL OF A LIFETIME, ANXIOUS PEOPLE

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