Beartown by Fredrik Backman: A Review

After reading Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove, I figured he can be the go-to for “feel good” books. Like I’ve said in my review for Britt-Marie Was Here, his stories aren’t always original, but his ability to write the most relatable characters keeps me enthralled. And who doesn’t want a feel-good story in the midst of all this political craziness? So when I got in his latest book, Beartown, I was excited for what was in store for me. But this was not the feel-good book I needed. It’s a great book, a great story, but Backman plunged a knife into my heart and kept turning it till the very end.

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Source: Goodreads

Warning: spoilers ahead

On the surface, this book is about hockey and the people who love it. Beartown is a small, dying town where the factory, who employs most of the town, is slowly laying people off. It’s cold and miserable. The one thing this town has going for itself is hockey. There are club teams run by older men who were in the teams when they were young. And now, through Kevin, the town has hope. Kevin is the best they’ve seen in a while, since Peter, who was drafted in the NHL though he didn’t make it far. With Kevin, the junior team will win the title, which will put the town back on the map bringing with it a hockey school and new businesses. But then the unthinkable happens. During an afterparty to celebrate the junior team’s victory, Kevin rapes Maya, Peter’s daughter. Aman, new to the junior team and in love with Maya, witnesses it in time and Maya is able to escape. What follows is a study of human nature. How does a small town, in which hockey is all, respond when their key to success is accused of a horrible crime? How do people treat rape victims? How do parents deal with their kids being raped or accused of rape? There were several lines in this book that made me think, “yes, this is rape culture.” Maya is (I believe) 15 years old and Kevin is 17. The police call refer to him as a “kid,” while Maya is being treated like an adult. Two strong families go head-to-head, doing what they think is best for their children. We see how trauma affects not only the victim, but the family as well, including Maya’s younger brother. Through Aman, Backman also deals with the ways in which immigrants are treated in a predominantly white town.

Once again, Backman captured my attention through great storytelling. His ability to capture characters’ thoughts and emotions is so realistic. I always end up feeling like I know the characters when I’m done.

My biggest critique with this book is that almost every chapter and section started with a paragraph that draws on these abstract ideas about human nature and/or hockey. I found myself skipping those paragraphs starting halfway through the book. There was some eye-rolling.

I was disappointed that this wasn’t the “it all works out in the end” story I was expecting, but I think Backman did a great job capturing how people react to rape, especially Maya. I wouldn’t expect a male writer to be able to represent a 15 year-old girl (why I dislike John Green), but he did.

4/5 stars on Goodreads

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