Updated: Jul 16, 2020
"Why does anyone care about hockey?
Because it tells stories."
Beartown is a story about people.
The kind that simultaneously warms and breaks your heart for all the right and wrong reasons. People who have never had it easy but somehow carry on living. Like they say, "Bears shit in the woods, and everyone shits on Beartown." But the town doesn't see that as an insult. Because they're not like any other town. It's then no surprise that the residents of Beartown prize their hockey team above everything else. It's their last reminder of when jobs weren't scarce and the economy wasn't in shreds- when they were great. And for the first time in over two decades, they finally have the chance to be that again.
Few books make us feel something and fewer still are important. Beartown is both.
It's the subtle reminders like this one that make Backman a memorable writer.
He infuses a multitude of emotions into a few words. And as with all of his work, we see something that only very rarely appears in novels of this time- honesty. Unlike his other novels known for its light-heartedness and humoristic touch, Beartown is a truly emotional piece and revolves around some very sensitive topics. One night, an act of violence hits the small hockey town, and its effects ripples like waves. They fall, and not one person is left unaffected. Backman, however, navigates through them beautifully. He builds passionate characters equally as flawed as they are memorable. The ending was so well concluded that I couldn't have asked for anything more.
I'd be lying if I said hockey wasn't my thing. So when I initially picked up a book about a small-town junior hockey team, I'll admit I was already hooked. I think I finished the novel in about 3 days, not because I'm a fast reader (because really, I'm not). But because I couldn't put it down. There were moments so captivating and emotional that I had to take a breather.
That being said, Beartown is a story as much for those who have fallen helplessly in love with a sport as arbitrary as a ball and two sticks, and even more so for those who haven't. After all,
"Hockey is just a silly little game. We devote year after year after year to it without ever really hoping to get anything in return. We burn and bleed and cry, fully aware that the most the sport can give us, in the very best scenario, is incomprehensibly meager and worthless: just a few isolated moments of transcendence. That’s all.
But what the hell else is life made of?” - Fredrik Backman, Beartown
We all know that sports novels tread a fine line between sport and emotion, so if you're looking for a sports drama about an inspiring coach and a comeback, please don't misunderstand. Because deep down a part of us knows life doesn't always work like that. People don't always get what they deserve, and Beartown is a book about people.
Backman takes on a revolving narration in this piece. We pass between the lives of various Beartown residents. He illustrates what it means to be a good neighbor, friend, son, daughter, parent, teacher, and coach. The style is uniquely honest and unapologetic. He says what he wants to say- nothing less, nothing more.
It's a story about choices, pain, friendship, sacrifice, strength, and community. So yes, it's a book about hockey. But it's also so much more.
Be sure to check out the second book in this trilogy, Us Against You, and Backman's other works. Reviews coming soon!
Thanks for reading until the end! As always, feel free to reach out with any questions or book recommendations- seriously, I'd love to hear from you! Until next time,