Beartown by Fredrik Backman
Published by Simon Schuster Audio on April 25, 2017
Series: Björnstad, #1
Genre(s): fiction, contemporary
Format & Length: audiobook, 13:16:27
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From the New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, and Britt-Marie Was Here, comes a poignant, charming novel about a forgotten town fractured by scandal, and the amateur hockey team that might just change everything.
Winning a junior ice hockey championship might not mean a lot to the average person, but it means everything to the residents of Beartown, a community slowly being eaten alive by unemployment and the surrounding wilderness. A victory like this would draw national attention to the ailing town: it could attract government funding and an influx of talented athletes who would choose Beartown over the big nearby cities. A victory like this would certainly mean everything to Amat, a short, scrawny teenager who is treated like an outcast everywhere but on the ice; to Kevin, a star player just on the cusp of securing his golden future in the NHL; and to Peter, their dedicated general manager whose own professional hockey career ended in tragedy.
At first, it seems like the team might have a shot at fulfilling the dreams of their entire town. But one night at a drunken celebration following a key win, something happens between Kevin and the general manager’s daughter—and the next day everything seems to have changed. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected. With so much riding on the success of the team, the line between loyalty and betrayal becomes difficult to discern. At last, it falls to one young man to find the courage to speak the truth that it seems no one else wants to hear.
Fredrik Backman knows that we are forever shaped by the places we call home, and in this emotionally powerful, sweetly insightful story, he explores what can happen when we carry the heavy weight of other people’s dreams on our shoulders.
I had heard great things about this book so I had high expectations going into it. Well. This surpassed ALL of them.
“If a town falls in the forest but no one hears it, does it matter at all?”
Beartown is a hockey town. In a town that is “slowly being eaten alive by unemployment and the surrounding wilderness,” hockey provides its residents hope. Hope of winning a championship, hope for the future of both the players and the town itself. This means something a little bit different to each of the characters, but for the town it means survival instead of dropping off the map.
“She always thinks it was the forest that taught the people of Beartown to keep their mouths shut, because when you hunt and fish you need to stay quiet so as not to scare the animals, and if you teach people that lesson since birth, it’s going to color the way they communicate.”
When I first began listening to this book, and the descriptions about Beartown, I could picture it in my head. A small town surrounded by forest in a cold, harsh environment. I imagined it being somewhere in the northern United States, close to Canada. You know, the kind of place you only know about if you’re from around there. Maybe North Dakota or somewhere in that area. (I realize I am incredibly biased living 20 minutes outside of New York City, but there it is.) It wasn’t until I was about 20% of the way in when a character mentioned something about kronor, and I did a double take, skipped back to listen again, and realized that Fredrik Backman is Swedish. Of course Beartown is not in the United States; it’s in Sweden!
This anecdote is not just a funny story wherein I wind up smacking my forehead. It highlights everything that is wonderful about this book. Beartown has such a sense of place and tone, it is almost a character unto itself; at the same time, it has a transcendent quality that makes it seem like it could be anywhere at all. It is accessible, and people from all walks of life will find an aspect of it that they can relate to.
“Sweet Jesus . . . you men. It’s never your fault, is it? When are you going to admit that it isn’t ‘hockey’ that raises these boys, it’s YOU LOT? In every time and every place, I’ve come across men who blame their own stupidity on crap they themselves have invented. ‘Religion causes wars,’ ‘guns kill people,’ it’s all the same old bullshit!”
Beartown is a hockey town. This story revolves around hockey, the game and its players, coaches, management, patrons, fans, and the town that it supports. But it is about so much more than hockey. Backman’s writing, translated by Neil Smith, is stunning, insightful, and poignant. I don’t usually make note of more than one or two quotes when listening to an audiobook, but in this case I paused the audio at least ten times to do so. The narration by Marin Ireland was also extremely well done, which added to my experience in immersing me in the story.
The contents of this book, much like Beartown, are harsh and heavy, but the delivery is such that it is so compulsively readable. It explores a multitude of themes that are not only relevant but are intertwined so that they play off each other, including: teenage drinking and drug use; sexuality; rape; bullying; betrayal; marriage; coming of age in our current culture; friendship; forgiveness; and hope.
“Friendship is both complicated and not complicated at all.”
I could go on and on about this book, so let me just end with this: it is an extremely engaging, emotional, and thought provoking experience and you should READ it. I cannot recommend Beartown highly enough.