Beartown by Fredrik Backman examines the lives of a close-knitted community nestled in a small, dying town as well as the consequences of a violent act.
Beartown is a small town being slowly engulfed by unemployment, inequality, and even the forest that lines its borders. The one thing that this town lives for is hockey. Hockey is more than just a game to its residents: it’s the culture, the purpose, the way of life here. The junior hockey team has made it to the semifinals, and the hopes of the whole town rely on a group of teenage boys. But when the star player is accused of an unspeakable act, the town is forced to look itself in the mirror and decide what really matters.
This novel has many stories to tell. A large and ever-evolving cast of characters offers an intimate glimpse into the many sides of this small hockey town. There’s Maya, a guitar player in a sea of hockey players and fans. Her dad is the general manager of the hockey team and her mom is a respected lawyer in a place where career women are shamed. Sune is the aging coach of the A-team that represents the past, and not the future. The junior team’s coach, David, is worshipped by his players. Kevin is the idolized golden boy of the hockey team that is destined to lead the hockey team (and the town) to glory. Amat is a talented player but is relentlessly bullied for being different. I could go on and on. Each of the many characters somehow stands out with their own voice and story. The novel really is comprised of dozens of intriguing, beautifully-rendered character studies that are all interconnected with each other and the overarching storyline.
This book deals with some very difficult topics, but I thought the author did a fantastic job of portraying these events in a way that did not hide them away from the reader but also did not go into them with excessive detail either. It’s extremely tricky to strike the right tone in books that delve into violent acts like what is explored in this novel, but I believe that the right tone was indeed found here. The profoundly unfair but very real way the consequences unfold from this event says a lot about modern society in a way that I found insightful. This book also tackles a myriad of other issues such as gender stereotypes, bullying, and social class division.
The writing was capable of expressing a large quantity of emotion in even the smallest statements. I do not think that this writing style will appeal to every reader, and I did find it a bit too sparse in some places, but overall the writing in this book was excellent. It says what it wants to say and never more than that.
This book has been the best one I’ve read so far this year. It was powerful, emotional, and most of it all it was incredibly relevant. This is more than just a book about a hockey team. This is more than just a book about a small town. This is a book about power and justice. I strongly believe that high school students should be required to this read this important book.