Review: Beartown

by Becky
Published: Updated:

Story: Beartown is a hockey town. The village depends on the sport. The very survival of its citizens hinges on the quality of the Beartown hockey club. When the junior team’s championship run is interrupted by a scandal, everyone in Beartown is forced to question their loyalties; to ask themselves questions they don’t necessarily want to know the honest answers to. As the town seeks to reconcile its now upended view of the world, it is the teenagers that lead the way on a path to change. Who are you? Are you a bear from Beartown?

It’s only a game. It only resolves tiny, insignificant things. Such as who gets validation. Who gets listened to. It allocates power and draws boundaries and turns some people into stars and others into spectators. That’s all.

Why: One of my reading goals for 2018 was to read more recommendations. This was another suggestion from my brother-in-law, and had been on my radar for a while. I knew the book was well-loved, and I had enjoyed Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove. I just hadn’t made Beartown a priority. The recommendation was the last straw that pushed me to request the title from my library.

There are few words that are harder to explain than “loyalty.” It’s always regarded as a positive characteristic, because a lot of people would say that many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.

Opinion: I loved this book. However, I would not have said that if you’d have asked me about halfway through. Similar to my feelings reading The Underground Railroad, I had a hard time consuming a lot of pages in one sitting. The narrative is complex and the content raw, emotional and real. Backman does an incredible job capturing the turmoil that surrounds the town. He depicts how various struggles result in layers of emotion, action and inaction. The subtleties developed over generations too afraid to break the mold.

The diction and construction Backman uses punctuate the emotion. There are times when he generalizes characters into “a boy” or “a mother” and it is clear how universal struggles are. Humans are a sum of their experiences and by referencing a character’s memory of a particular moment ten years in the future, Backman creates a sense of guilt or regret that is all to easy to relate to. Finally, visually breaking paragraphs to highlight a single sentence is a highly effective form of emphasis. While employed quite often in Beartown, I found that Backman used them all expertly with statements that are both impactful and haunting.

The worst thing about having power over other people’s lives is that you sometimes get things wrong.

Recommendation: This is a book for mature readers. It presents a number of trigger topics like rape, homosexuality, alcoholism and domestic violence. If open and honest discussion of these topics and how they are perceived in today’s society is not your cup of tea, this is not the book for you. However, if you are looking for a thought-provoking title that will leave you both heart-wrenched and hopeful, this is a masterfully crafted novel.

We devote ourselves to sports because they remind us of how small we are just as much as they make us bigger.

Journaling Prompts: (If you haven’t read any of my other reviews, I enjoy putting together a few questions about the book for those that have already read, or choose to read the book after viewing this post!)

  1. Who grows and changes the most throughout the course of the book?
  2. Which characters would you describe as the “good guys” and which are the “bad guys”? Why? Was it difficult to determine your lists?
  3. How are Maya and Benji similar?
  4. Discuss the bear and wolf imagery throughout the novel.
  5. The forest around Beartown is both a symbol of dark, terrifying dangers and a quiet, lonely place of escape and solace. How does this imagery mirror the nature of the town itself?
  6. Why do you think Backman chose the blossoming cherry tree as a recurring symbol in this novel?
  7. Best friends are also mentioned frequently throughout Beartown. Think of all the pairs of best friends. Anna and Maya. Kevin and Benji. Amat and Zacharias. Peter and Tails. William and Filip’s mothers. Jeanette and Adri. Etc. How does Backman use these relationships to further both the plot and the emotional engagement of this novel?

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