Beartown by Fredrik Backman published in 2017.
“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.”
This novel is the physical embodiment of this vine.
Beartown is the name of a small community that revolves around hockey. The junior boy’s upcoming hockey finals are not only a source of pride and joy but future economic stability. So the weight of an entire town of individuals is on the shoulders of a group of seventeen-year-old hockey players—no pressure though. The star of the junior team is Kevin Erdahl, a hockey phenomenon that is headed straight for the big leagues. This is all until he rapes fifteen-year-old Maya at a party. Oh yeah, to make things worse, Maya is the daughter of the general manager of the hockey club Kevin plays at. The reader watches this town fall apart in the name of the very sport that they claimed brought them together
A hallmark of a good book for me is a great opening line, and Beartown definitely provided this,
“Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled 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”
Not only does this provide an element of anticipation and motivation to keep reading, but I love how in the last line Backman uses the word “we”, adding a sense of inclusion, almost like the readers are part of the story. My attention was immediately grabbed and made me excited to continue with this story.
I usually talk about characters, but there are so many people in this book that there really isn’t a main character. Normally this might be confusing and scattered, but in this case, it made the novel more unique since the town itself is taking the role of the protagonist. The citizens within Beartown are so intertwined in each other’s stories that it transcends one single character. The town itself has a heart of its own and therefore leads most of the plot.
I should probably also include a trigger warning for this book. For a book primarily about hockey, it covers some heavy topics such as homophobia and as I mentioned above, rape. Backman handles both topics gracefully though, so if you do have a history with either of these subjects, it still may be worth approaching this book with heightened caution.
For example, there’s an eloquently written line about rape trauma that caught my attention,
“For the perpetrator, rape lasts just a matter of minutes. For the victim, it never stops.”
As if the actual act of rape wasn’t enough, the aftermath was almost as horrifying. Not only do people turn against Maya, but they view Kevin as the victim. I could go on and on about the many ways this book made my blood boil, from people accusing her of lying, to blaming her for everything, and even people consoling his parents. It was the toxic masculinity and unwavering loyalty that had these town folks idolizing a teenage boy simply because he was good on the ice. In their eyes, he could do no wrong, which is extremely frustrating to witness. I found myself physically clenching my fists in angry, and even had to take a break from it so I wouldn’t get myself too worked up.
The reason I was getting so upset is because of how real this situation is. Backman perfectly captured the language people use when discussing rape. I was specifically reminded of the Brock Turner case, and many other situations like this that probably go without a trial. It’s a tragic look into the lives of many women (and men) who are the victims of rape.
Now I will say the story did seem to drag in some places. The actual climatic incident didn’t happen until almost 200 pages in, and even beyond that new characters and plot points were being introduced. The first one hundred pages or so was leading up to the semifinals (the lead up to the actual finals didn’t last nearly as long). So put plainly, some parts of this could benefit from a bit of mild editing, but overall I’m not complaining.
The ending was bittersweet, and that’s the best way I can put it without spoiling anything. I probably wouldn’t have written it any differently; Backman even used the story technique of writing about the characters life ten years in the future. This is a particularly interesting move since he has another novel published called Us Against You, which is the continued story of the Beartown community after the incident. The aspect I love most about this is that nobody has to pick up his sequel for this story to be finished, but it’s the choice of the reader if they want more. You won’t be losing anything from the original book if you choose not to read the second. I love the freedom Backman allows his readers, and because of that, I’ll definitely be picking up a copy of Us Against You.