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.
Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger.
* * *
This is the story of how we got there.
enjoyable/easy to read:
Beartown shines a harsh light on sports culture and a town that prioritises winning above everything else, but it takes an awfully long time to get there.
Sometimes the entire community feels like a philosophical experiment: If a town falls in the forest but no one hears it, does it matter at all?
Backman is a massive tease. He drops hints, reveals future details, suggests what could happen next, but never seems to actually get to the point. It’s easy to look back at the overall story and appreciate how he pieced it together, but it was difficult to see the forest for the trees while you’re in it. It created a very distracting read for me - I struggled to focus, and everything else around me was much more compelling.
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?
There are so many incredible characters in this small town it’s hard to single them out. Benji’s quiet leadership and solitude, Maya’s strength and awareness, Amat’s kindness and perseverance, Kira’s intelligence and acceptance, Peter’s love and uncertainty, Ana’s loyalty and survival skills; they all play important roles in this insular community. It’s one of the few narratives I’ve read that seamlessly transitioned between so many different perspectives and they all seemed necessary to tell this story well. Even the characters with bad intentions or motivations or the ones who are acting out of misplaced loyalty or misinformation come together to round out this terrifyingly realistic town. There are so many shades of grey here to complement the clear black and white.
One of them is going to die. She still hasn’t decided who.
I’m not sure where this series is heading - Beartown could have been a very satisfying standalone - but the Goodreads ratings only get higher with each subsequent novel.