Beartown by Fredrik Backman
About the Author – Since his debut novel, A Man Called Ove, Backman continues writing bestseller after bestseller. Backman is a Swedish author, columnist, and blogger whose works have been published in over forty countries. He currently lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife and two daughters. Follow his hilarious adventures with the three girls on Twitter or Instagram.
About the Book – This story takes place in Beartown, a small community of tough folk living deep in the forest. These people live hard lives and hockey is their only escape. When the amateur hockey team makes it to the national semifinal, everyone believes this is the town’s chance for survival. A win could mean better sponsors, better players, and renewed interest from the rest of the country.
When a scandal involving one of the players and a younger girl rocks the town, accusations begin to fly and each individual must choose who to believe.
My Thoughts – Beartown is a darker novel than we’ve seen thus far from Backman. There’s less light-hearted whimsy and quirky lovable characters. Instead, Backman shows us what happens when flawed humans get caught up in their devotion to a sport or community.
To put it in perspective, I started this book on a Friday night and finished it Saturday morning. The emotional plot and well-written characters completely captivated me. It’s a bit terrifying how easily I can see this situation happening in our society – some of these heartless individuals are all too familiar. However, Backman also understands courage and those who stand up for what’s right. He writes realistically, knowing that sometimes we make the wrong decision initially but ultimately redeem ourselves.
1. The hockey players are under intense pressure to win from both the townspeople and their coaches/sponsors. How does this affect them? Did the coaches and hockey club leaders prepare them to deal with this strain?
These young men didn’t show the pressure when they played, but it clearly impacted other areas of their life. Their whole lives they’ve been part of this team, constantly coached, berated, and told hockey is more important than literally anything else. The team mentality, while often an excellent thing, unfortunately led to protecting someone who didn’t deserve it. They’ve never been taught to treat others with respect or in some cases even dignity. This also plays out in how Amat is initially treated when he joins the team. It isn’t until he plays well that he’s assigned any value.
2. Who were your favorite characters and why? Did your choice change throughout the book?
Kira was easily one of my favorites. She clearly didn’t fit in or understand the town, but she stuck by her husband while simultaneously excelling at her job. I love how her doubts and frustrations about being a wife, mother, and employee were shown as well. It made her real and relatable. Bobo’s transformation is a delight to read as well. He starts out as just another aggressive bully but turns into a caring and supportive friend.
3. What were you expecting when Maya faced Kevin at the end of the novel? How would her life have been different if she made the opposite choice?
I fully expected Maya to kill him. After everything she’d experienced and her mental state at the time, I had no doubt she would do it. It was such a relief to find out she decided just to scare him. Despite the instant justice she might have felt, it would ruin her life and she deserved better than that. Knowing that Ana got there just in time to watch, I’m also thinking about how it may have ruined Ana’s life as well. Ana would need to decide whether to turn in her best friend or deal with the unimaginable guilt the rest of her life. Instead, Maya rose above and proved she was stronger than what Kevin did to her. She’s such an admirable character, so I was beyond thrilled to read about her personal success later in life.
4. Do you think the community is fundamentally changed by the events of this novel or do you think it’s possible they’ll fall back into the hockey frenzy in time?
At the end of the book, we read about the young girl who steps on to the ice for the first time in Beartown and eventually becomes its greatest hockey player. That leads me to believe they’re willing to support a woman and have hopefully turned away from their prejudice. However, she’s still a hockey player and the devotion to hockey was the primary reason for the issues throughout the novel. The possibility exists that any individuals who aren’t concerned with hockey or who excel in other ways might still be mistreated. Beartown is certainly a cautionary tale.
Answer the questions or add your own thoughts about Beartown in the comments!