I loved, loved, loved this book. If you’re a fan of Friday Night Lights this will be right up your street.
I finished reading this during the big snow of 2018, mid-cabin fever, and it was perfect timing because Beartown is a cold place, figuratively and literally. It is hidden among the trees, well beyond the nearest city. It has one bar, one school and not much happens there that doesn’t happen on the ice rink.
The town’s hockey teams have been on a poor run, but they are tough, stoic people and everyone is agreed that this is the year that all changes. This year, the high-school team are going to win big and that’s going to bring investment to the town and those players are going to join the A team the following year and success is going to come streaming into the town. That’s a lot of pressure to put teenage boys under.
However, the school hockey players are heroes, they are popular among their peers, they are fancied by the girls and the local businesses look at them with hope for the future of the town. But, what happens when the actions of one of the town heroes comes into question?
From the get-go you are waiting. You know something terrible is going to happen, but you just don’t know what. There are so many possibilities. Author, Fredrik Backman paces it perfectly. There is just enough tension to have you on edge, while he drops clues along the way to hint at what is coming but not enough that you will work it out too soon.
When I began Beartown, I wasn’t convinced I would enjoy it. It didn’t take long to get into it, but a first I felt there were a lot of characters thrown at me in the first few pages. And there are a lot of characters as the story is told from the perspective of several key people. One of the most impressive things about this book is how Backman manages to articulate the thoughts and emotions of each character. He shows a real understanding of human emotion and there were many times I thought he perfectly summed up the complex feelings we deal with every day, which is even more impressive when doing so from the perspective of several people.
I began to appreciate Backman’s skill early in the book when I realised that not one day had passed in the plot; but I had, through a simple weaving of characters, learned more about the backgrounds of the main characters than I do about some people I work with. It was like a one big jigsaw and every character was helping to fill in the picture by giving their own perspective on life.
While the characters share in the story, I couldn’t help but feel like Kevin Erdahl, star of the Beartown hockey team, was also the star of the story. He is the lynch pin around which everything turns. Peter Andersson, general manager of the Beartown hockey club, his wife, Kira, and daughter, Maya, are also central characters, but I really felt as if they were looking on from the sideline as everything unfolds.
It unfolds slowly, tantalisingly. And, when the big moment does come, it wasn’t what I had been expecting. Even after the big crescendo, there is potential for even more danger. As always, I try not to give away the pivotal plot twists, but it is violent. It is also, worryingly, quite familiar. I read it and thought it was 100 percent plausible.
The book is very similar in topic to Asking for It from Irish author Louise O’Neill and I was reading it during the trial of two Irish rugby players accused of rape. And, as I write this, I have just paused The People v O.J. Simpson. They all raise the issue of the prowess of sportspeople on the field can often be confused with their actions off it. How much are we willing to look the other way when their integrity comes into question?
That’s what the citizens of Beartown must decide. What action will they take when their heroes fall?