Book Club: Us Against You
Us Against You by Frederik Backman
I marked my calendar for this sequel to Beartown the minute I finished it. I pre-ordered this book on Amazon because I'm the biggest fan of the writer, I got it in various forms - Audible version and Kindle version. I've finished it but I'm honestly thinking of reading it again! I'm so excited to review this book for you guys today.
After everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet another blow when they hear that their beloved local hockey team will soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in Hed, take in that fact. Amidst the mounting tension between the two rivals, a surprising newcomer is handpicked to be Beartown’s new hockey coach.
Soon a new team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.
As the big match approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt grows deeper. By the time the last game is finally played, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after all they’ve been through, the game they love can ever return to something simple and innocent.
Related post: Book Club: Beartown
Beartown was a completely different reading experience for me than Backman's other books. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, A Man Called Ove, and Britt-Marie was Here were all touching stories with bittersweet endings that made me cry of happy melancholy (I know, I'm a sap). Beartown, however, was all of those things and then more. The subject matter was darker than his other books about the getting older aspects of life. Beartown was about a hockey club and the town that supported toxic masculinity and the rape of a girl. It was so good because it was so familiar and felt real. I could never put into words what I was feeling when I read stories like that but Backman was able to do it.
It was with excitement I read the sequel to Beartown, Us Against You. All of my favorite characters were back - Benji, the star player who becomes the youngest captain of the A-Team. Bobo, the loveable oaf who just wants to fit in. Amat, the immigrant from a hot country who is a natural on the ice. I just wanted to know these kids were okay in the second book, and for the most part, they were.
I loved the introduction of the new characters, especially Elizabeth Zackell, the new female hockey coach who is tough but fair. Beartown was also introduced to a new populist politician, Richard Theo. He was clever and I admired his political dexterity (I work in DC after all) but he didn't have the same charm to me as Elizabeth did.
Beartown is still reeling from the loss of their best players to the neighboring rival town of Hed. The new Beartown A-team is their last chance to have a great team again. When someone outs the new team captain, Benji, the conservative and hypermasculine fans of hockey have to make a choice - do they forget the years of wins that Benji delivered for the town, just because he's been gay the whole time? Or do they accept what he is and move on?
My favorite scene in the book occurs after Benji is outed and he shares a heart-to-heart with the coach. She explains to him that now everyone knows he's gay, he HAS to be the best, otherwise they'd just dismiss him as a "homosexual hockey player." She tells him she knows this because she's a female coach and she has to deliver results to not be just some "female hockey coach." It really made me stop and think about myself and my life. I don't want to be an "Asian-American female" anything. I just want to do my job. However, when we have noticeable differences from our peers, those things stand out and can cause some people to dismiss you. For them to not be so dismissive, we have no choice but to be the best, even if this was not a responsibility we asked for. The discussion was poignant and deep. I think it's philosophical conversations like this that Backman adds in that really pulls me into his books.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in social justice and philosophy. This book will not disappoint!