Review of Beartown by Fredrik Backman

“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard, It makes demands. Hate is simple. So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe – comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy.” 

— Beartown, Fredrik Backman

A while ago I read A Man Called Ove and heard my heart crack in my chest. Fredrik Backman created a man so grumpy yet so lovable that, while reading about his struggles, I felt them as if they were my own. I knew after setting that book down that I wanted to read more of Backman’s work, but wasn’t sure if I was ready. After a long time of reading other books and avoiding the Backman on my shelf, I finally picked up Beartown

Beartown tells the story of a small town deep within a forest that is utterly devoted to hockey. The people of Beartown believe that hockey will restore their town to its former glory, especially because their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals. All of the pressure of fixing Beartown’s future rests on the shoulders of a group of teenage boys.

But with that pressure and potential for glory, an act of violence in Beartown leaves a young girl reeling and a whole time on the brink of falling apart. Backman’s story about a small town sheds light on the entire world.

With only his words, Backman has the power to rip out your heart and inspire you at the same time. Beartown was full of so much heart and heartbreak that I felt myself clutching my chest in every chapter. Every single character came alive on the page and I felt like I knew them. They were utterly human. I truly felt for each character (yes, even the not so good ones). I wanted to console Maya and hug Ana. I wanted Amat and Fatima to be given the world. I wanted to tell Benji to knock it off, but also that he was going to be okay. I can honestly say I believe Backman to be a master of character creation. Each of these characters were fully fleshed out with real human emotion and behaviors.

With the utmost confidence I can say that I love this story, but here’s where things get tricky…

I desperately wanted it to end, but didn’t want to let go of it. This book was painful to read in the best way possible. If I thought my heart cracked when I read A Man Called Ove, it absolutely shattered when I read Beartown. The world Backman created was beautiful, well-written, and made me feel so many different emotions. But the events that took place in the world and hurt the characters ended up hurting me too. It’s a strange feeling to love a book so much, but to be constantly angry and frustrated with it at the same time.

I’m grateful there’s a sequel (Us Against You) so that I can immerse myself in the world once again, but I am so scared to start it because I know it’s going to hurt just as much. Beartown gets all the stars from me. I know that I am going to be thinking about this book for a while, it has left a mark on my heart.

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