Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

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The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns 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.

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

Beartown takes a look at the dynamics of a small town and its residents who live in the woods. The town's entire culture and psyche is centered on that of the junior hockey team. Their identities along with their goals, their economics, their purpose in life are tied up in it. Think Friday Night Lights but more intense. Backman introduces us to several people  - adults and teenagers - who are directly or indirectly involved with the hockey team and shows us how their lives are impacted by it. It takes a few pages to meet all of them but as soon as he's set that up he's the director having the camera slowly pan out, giving us a wider scope of the town. The result is that we see what hockey means to these individuals, what they've done for it, sacrificed for it and ultimately created because of it. Beartown is another testament to Backman's amazing ability to write about people's flaws and strengths, bringing their humanity to the forefront. What he's done here is show us that sometimes that thing that unites a community can also be something that pits one against the other. In this case, it's a sports culture that makes celebrities out of those who aren't ready, and how bringing them to cult-like status can create heroes and villains.

The beauty of Beartown is that we get to be inside the minds of all the characters and see how they affect one another. It's such a lovely advantage as a reader to be able to have that within reach but it's also an imposing thing as the story takes on a dark turn. You're an eyewitness to these events as the chips fall into place, coming to a climax that you're anxiously awaiting. Backman lays it out perfectly, weaving together their histories and keeping you guessing as to what's next. All the while, these characters feel real and their struggles or insecurities are relatable. You can recognize those things in them which makes this story an interesting study in human psychology and relationships.  

I'm not going to delve into plot specifics because the effect won't be as impressive if you're not watching it unfold yourself. The first page did startled me. It had me wondering as I continued when Backman would bring me back to that very moment on that first page. The anticipation gave me a rush! Because there are so many characters, there are a several storylines and for the most part they do intersect. By the way, there are some triggers but in order to avoid spoilers I've included them in the labels so please refer to them if you'd prefer to know ahead of time. 

I've wanted to read Beartown for months ever since I saw it was out in Backman's native Sweden. Sadly or rather inconveniently, I don't speak Swedish so I've had to wait patiently for it to be released in the US. As I've come to expect it's another outstanding novel from a master storyteller. The surprise though was the type of story this was and how serious it became. But it's the various twists and revelations that make Beartown a must-read now and a must-have addition to your bookshelf!

~ Bel

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