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Review: "Beartown" by Fredrik Backman

I’ve grown to love Fredrik Backman’s books. Whether it’s the jaded Ove in A Man Called Ove or the creative and grammar-savvy Elsa in My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Backman’s characters always convey his seamless and loveable narration. Knowing this, I immediately purchased his newest release, Beartown, when I stumbled across it in a Michigan bookstore.

Beartown focuses on a small hockey town whose livelihood is contingent on their junior hockey team winning the championship game. The win would bring a new hockey center to the town, as well as the traffic and news coverage that the struggling businesses sorely need. Backman introduces several characters including: Kevin, the star hockey player; Benji, a free-spirit and Kevin’s supportive best friend; Peter, the general manager of the team; Kira, his wife; Maya, their daughter; Ana, Maya’s best friend who practically lives with her family; Amat, the scrawny but hard-working janitor’s son; David, the head coach; and Sune, the all-knowing, soon-to-be ex-coach. Each character has his or her strengths and flaws, and they all overlap with each other. Backman’s decision to interweave these third-person narrations allows the reader to learn about these characters in a unique and engaging way. I believe it is the greatest strength of his work.

However, that is not the only selling-point. The book’s various subject matters can also appeal to a wide audience. Backman certainly knows his hockey, and he can talk about it in a way that makes even his ignorant readers fall in love with the sport. Besides that, he covers Kira’s law practice, hunting, coffee, and the role of bullying and friendships in high schoolers’ lives. I think this is what makes the book so applicable. Not only does Backman focus on the high school hockey team, he focuses on their parents, sponsors, and former players – characters whose positions cause them to feel a range of emotions.

That being said, I think the most important part about Backman’s novel is how well it fits in with the current cultural climate. A large part of the narration focuses on a rape and how families, careers, and happiness spiral horribly out of control after it. Backman’s commentary on how this happened and his ability to seamlessly depict the mentalities of both sides is incredible. He explores the lead-up, the occurrence, and the cover-up with chilling accounts from the characters affected. Without spoiling too much, I think Backman’s account of this is one of his greatest literary feats – at least from what I’ve read of him thus far.

While the beginning of this book takes some time to warm up, I can’t remember anything in recent history that has made me want to stay up until four in the morning the way this story did. The characters are fantastic, the story is thrilling and inspirational, and Backman creates a hard-headed, underdog town whose members are as strong as bears. While reading this book, I both laughed and cried, realizing that this is why I hope to write in the future. Backman has successfully made me fall in love with hockey for the first time and literature all over again.

Whether you’re looking for a holiday read or a last-minute gift for that cousin you never see, this is the book for you. It will make you think, and it will make you appreciate what you have. I could not recommend it more.

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