Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Setting: Beartown, a small town in Sweden
My Copy Came From: I purchased the paperback at a Walmart in Colorado Springs.
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***There will be SPOILERS in this review. Do not read this review if you don’t want to know anything beyond what the synopsis tells you! ***
Review: Strong and powerful, with well-written characters, but overly repetitive and heavy handed at times. Beartown by Fredrik Backman, is a book that I’d heard a lot about. I love Backman’s work, specifically A Man Called Ove and Britt-Marie Was Here, but I’d heard that Beartown was completely different. This is both true and not true.
Like Backman’s other books, we, the readers, are treated to fully fleshed out, well written characters. Characters that are neither good nor evil, but just are, and ones we root for, and ones we despise. The characters truly shine in Backman’s books, and Beartown is no exception.
Where I thought Beartown felt different from Backman’s other works was that it felt like I was reading the script, or the book, based on a television show. I felt a sense of here’s where episode five would end, or here there’d be a fade to black, or here’s a flashback to show more of a character’s back story. The book also reminded me of a Jodi Picoult book at times, as the story felt like one that she’d tackle in one of her books.
Now here’s where I’m going to get a bit spoiler-y: I’m just going to spoil what that “violent act” is that is mentioned in the synopsis, as I wish I would’ve known what that was going in to the book.
This is a book about rape. This is a book about how a town (or society) treats someone who comes forward about a rape, and what happens when the rapist is a star athlete. Specifically a star athlete with the potential to save a dying town and bring new business into the area. I don’t know why, but I kind of thought this book was about bullying (and it is), but that it would be about a boy being bullied and then fighting back and killing someone with a gun in the forest. That is not what happens! But somehow, I got it into my head that this is what the book was about, even though rape is very much hinted at in the synopsis. I’m not sure that I would’ve picked this up had I known the violent act was a rape. I just really am not interested in reading about that. But with that being said, I am glad that I read this book as I found it very powerful and there were several characters that I absolutely loved.
For the perpetrator, rape lasts just a matter of minutes. For the victim, it never stops.
Beartown is a small town in Sweden that is obsessed with ice hockey. The town revolves around hockey, and treats the child stars as celebrities, who can pretty much get away with anything they want. I could identify with this type of worship of sports stars, as I grew up going to a school were basketball was everything. It wasn’t anything as bad as Beartown, but I can see how a dying town could hang all of their hopes and dreams on a few kids, and put so much pressure on them. This pressure and toughness that the inhabitants of Beartown experience was brought up oh-so-many times. There was practically a quote about how tough Beartown is on almost every page, and how hockey is their life. It was way too much. It was so much that it was starting to lose its power and its sadness as it kept drilling the same theme home over and over and over again.
I know it’s only a game, Kira. I know. But we’re a town in the middle of the forest. We’ve got no tourism, no mine, no high-tech industry. We’ve got darkness, cold, and unemployment. If we can make this town excited again, about anything at all, that has to be a good thing. I know you’re not from round here, love, and this isn’t your town, but look around: the jobs are going, the council’s cutting back. The people who live here are tough, we’ve got the bear in us, but we’ve taken blow after blow for a long time now. This town needs to win at something. We need to feel, just once, that we’re best. I know it’s a game. But that’s not all it is. Not always.
While the town of Beartown, with its harsh environment and lack of industry for the residents is a character itself, my favorite characters were Bobo, Benji, and Kira. Benji is one of the star hockey players (he’s not the rapist), and he’s one of those hurting characters that you just want to hug. When we first meet Benji, we realize that he frequently drinks and uses marijuana to hide his pain of losing his father to suicide and his own loneliness and secrets he’s hiding. I found Benji very complex, neither good nor bad, but just human, and I loved him for that.
Another character I loved is Bobo. Bobo starts out being the character you love to hate, as he bullies another great character, young Amat, who has dreams of being a hockey star. Bobo changes throughout the book, and I really just loved him, especially at the end and I also loved his parents.
My favorite female character was Kira, a lawyer who is married to Peter, the general manager of Beartown Ice Hockey. Kira took awhile for me to like, as she is so over-the-top competitive and bold that she grated on me at the beginning. But then she shifts into full mother-bear mode, and I ended up really loving her character and appreciating that boldness.
Other great characters are high school age Maya and Ana, who have a wonderful friendship, and I loved reading about a great female friendship. We need more solid, female friendships in books!
While I loved the characters, and hated some, I did really enjoy this book even though it was heavy handed at times. It brought up many good discussion points about what we stand for and what we don’t say anything about. There is a lot of bullying and locker room behavior in this book, so beware of that when going in.
Culture is as much about what we encourage as what we permit.
There is a sequel to Beartown coming out in June, called Us Against You, and I must admit to being totally confused as to the necessity of a sequel. I’m sure I’ll read it, as I did love several characters, and I usually love Backman’s writing. But I’m not sure a sequel is necessary. Beartown felt complete to me, so I’m not sure how the sequel will go.
Bottom Line: Powerful with well written characters, but a bit heavy handed at times.