Book Club: Beartown
Beartown by Frederik Backman
Ever since I read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, I've been enchanted with all of Swedish writer, Frederik Backman's work. I was so excited to delve into this book but unlike his other books that had a a sweetness to it, Beartown struck a darker tone.
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Overeturns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream—and the price required to make it come true.
People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.
Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.
Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.
This was my favorite read all year. Frederik Backman has now entered my heart as my favorite author (sorry J.K. Rowling and Roald Dahl ). Despite this book being about a hockey team, I didn't have to know much about hockey at all to understand the impact. This is really, a story about how a town who loves their team can love it too much - how a star hockey player can rape a girl and the rest of the town can turn their backs because hockey matters more.
We've seen this kind of thing play out countless times even here in the U.S. I remember as a college student, a news story coming out about a girl getting raped by the star football player. Instead of punishing the boy responsible, the town denied it even happened. Then if it did happen, the girl was painted as a "slut" and "was asking for it." This is exactly how Beartown's town-rocking event was described as well - it's how a town goes from denying it happened to victim blaming.
Related post: Book Club: Life of Pi and A Man Called Ove
Despite the heavy tone of this book, I really enjoyed the way Backman focused on each and every single character and writes from their perspective as well, including the victim and the perpetrator. Obviously, those two viewpoints are important, but the perspective of the hockey coaches, the town members, the boardmembers, the friends, the neighbors, and the teammates were so incredibly eye-opening to me because Backman managed to accurately and believably capture the thoughts of the bystanders. While you never agree with their action/inaction, you end up completely understanding where they are coming from. It made me realize why most people don't stand up for victims of sexual assault and rape and what goes on in the mind of someone who would put a male sports star on a pedestal.
I loved so many of the characters. I think Amat has an intriguing story - an immigrant son of a single mother, both from a country that has never seen snow, and he plays like a natural. I saw a lot of myself in Amat in that I was also a child of immigrants and had been teased for it growing up. Benji was another favorite - he's the other star player of the Beartown Hockey team who is in the closet regarding his sexual orientation. He is fearless both on and off the ice but has a heart of gold.
I highly recommend this book if you guys are looking for a deep read. This book has made me feel a FULL RANGE of emotions - I was laughing, I was crying, I was seething with anger, and I was touched. Backman's words are so powerful and I hope you do yourself a favor and read this.