Thursday, June 7, 2018

Us Against You (Beartown #2) by Fredrik Backman

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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.

Source: advance e-galley provided in exchange for an honest review

I loved Beartown though I know a lot of people had a hard time with it because it is a tragic story. It's not easy reading and neither is its startling sequel, Us Against You. As you know, I deeply admire Fredrik Backman and Beartown was so different from what I was used to from him. I wasn't expecting a follow up because I was satisfied with how it ended. I realize now as I'm writing this why despite how heavy these books are, I love them so much. When people are put under the microscope and you keep zooming in closer, those people start to behave differently. The way they respond to the pressure is a glimpse into their personalities.

Same thing applies here in Us Against You where the story picks up a few weeks after a devastating crime that has run the accused and shamed hockey captain out of town and his accuser is left behind to face the town's wrath. Beartown is on the brink of implosion. It doesn't happen immediately. Instead Backman methodically demonstrates how each of Beartown's citizens are reacting to and are affected by the upheaval of their hockey team's demise. It's not just about hockey, but about what it represents to this town and how its identity and economy are closely entwined with its success. 

I was hyper aware of how fragmented the story is this time and admittedly it makes it slightly tougher to a reading groove so to speak. It jumps from one character to the next quickly as he sets up the story which requires patience as he leads to something big. He also introduces a new character who felt rather abstract  and sinister to me. The whole point of him is to prey on people's weaknesses and fears and spur on action. 

As an entire piece, I liked Us Against You. However, it did take me a while to finish it because the story is choppier and it is sad. Everyone involved is going through massive life changes and reeling from the reverberating effects of what happened to a few if its own. What kept me going is Backman's insight into human nature. He's able to pick apart and analyze things and know the truth of them. It's how I felt when I first read his debut, A Man Called Ove. I believe I said then that he's somehow able to put into words emotions that I myself hard to describe, and he does so in a way that makes them accessible. Us Against You might present an ugly side of people whose flaws we can easily recognize in ourselves, but there's also a glimmer of hope somewhere in there and it's that that I latch onto. Backman is a brilliant storyteller, sincere, vulnerable and honest in every word he writes.

~ Bel

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