Author: Fredrik Backman
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Sports
First published: April 25th 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Finished reading: September 15th 2017
(Originally written in Swedish: ‘Björnstad’)
“The very worst events in life have that effect on a family: we always remember, more sharply than anything else, the last happy moments before everything fell apart.”
Fredrik Backman managed to blow me completely away with his story A Man Called Ove last year, which turned out to be one of my new all time favorites. I’ve been wanting to read one of his other books ever since… So now I finally have more time to read my own books, I decided to pick up my copy of his newest story Beartown. Confession: I’m not a hockey fan at all, so I wasn’t sure if reading a book centered around this sport would work for me. Also, my love for A Man Called Ove is so great that I wasn’t sure if another book would be able to live up to that level of wonderfulness. And it turned out my fears were grounded, because I do think Beartown came nowhere close to reaching that level. BUT. It is also true that this is a completely different story and should be evaluated as such. Because don’t get me wrong, it was without doubt a very good story and it shows Fredrik Backman is a brilliant writer. That said, I wish I could rate both halves of this book separately, because I had a completely different experience for both. While I had my doubts about Beartown during the first half of this story, all of this faded into the background when I reached the second part. Because by the time I reached the final page I was left with a broken heart and my emotions all over the place. It’s impressive that just one book is able to provoke so many contradicting emotions… What started out as a story with a lot of potential, but something that wasn’t able to convince me yet, ended in something I could easy have given a full 5 star rating for. In the beginning, I found myself struggling with the amount of characters and POVs that made it quite hard to keep track of them all. The writing was good, but somehow didn’t manage to lure me in completely and all the hockey talk wasn’t for me either. I found myself not as invested and I was feeling quite disappointed since I LOVED the characters in A Man Called Ove and was hooked right from the first page. Beartown turned out to be a slowburner instead, and while it took me about half the book to get used to the huge cast of characters, writing and situation in Beartown, as soon as I did I was hooked. This story has a few trigger warnings for the more sensitive readers, but the themes discussed in this story and the way the characters react to different situations are both intriguing, messy, realistic and will provoke very powerful emotions. You will love them, hate them, want to yell at them, slap them, hug them, make their pain go away… And you will feel powerless as you turn page after page and see how things unfold. So if you, like me, aren’t immediately convinced by this story, struggle with the multiple POVs and aren’t a hockey fan, don’t discard this book. Beartown is one of those stories where things will most definitely get better; although better is an understatement for the brilliant and realistic execution of the second half.
Beartown is a tiny community deep in the forest and a true hockey town. Some say Beartown is finished and things have been going downhill for a while. Their hockey team hasn’t shown any true potential in years and jobs have been disappearing as the forest slowly reclaims her territory. But the people in Beartown still believe tomorrow will be better than today, and their junior ice hockey team might be the key to that dream. They are about to compete in the national semi-finals; if they win, this could mean Beartown is back on the so-called hockey map. So all the hopes and dreams of the town now rest of the shoulders of a bunch of teenage boys… How will they react to the pressure? Will they be able to win the game? And what will this whole experience do to their young minds?
I have called Beartown a slowburner before, and I think this is just the right term for my feelings for this book. It took me a while to warm up to this story and to be honest in the beginning I wasn’t convinced by the multiple POVs and the amount of characters introduced. I’m not a hockey fan and I wasn’t sure if I could handle the prominent role the sport has in the story… But all those worries disappeared as soon as I reached the second half and found myself fully invested. I don’t want to give away too much to avoid spoilers (since the original blurb had a few as well), but some things will happen that will provoke very strong emotions and these feelings won’t let you go until you reach the final page. The fact that there are so many conflicting emotions will leave you wrecked, but fully satisfied. The ending is quite interesting as well, and will make you wonder about how the story started. All in all recommended despite the not that convincing start!