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{November 26, 2019}   {5 Star Review} Beartown by Fredrik Backman

From Goodreads: The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with 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.

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Holy… holy…. wow. I don’t even have words right now for how absolutely phenomenal this novel is. The very first sentence pulls you in, and by the time you get to the end… whoa.

When I read, and re-read the opening two sentences of this novel, I knew it would be amazing: “Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrel 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.” And as I started to read, I found myself suddenly in the small town of Beartown, not unlike the small town I grew up in so long ago, and as Backman begins his exquisite exposition, I suddenly could see these characters, hear these characters, feel their feelings, understand their thoughts, and the world of Beartown became my world as well. Now, I’m not a sports fan. I have never watched an iced-hockey game, and I’m sure the games we played in gym class certainly don’t count. I don’t care for football, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the men’s or women’s team that’s playing… I don’t generally watch. So I did approach this novel with some trepidation, because if I don’t care for sports, and I know nothing of iced-hockey, will I really enjoy the novel? For me, the answer was a resounding YES, and I believe that has solely to do with the fact that Backman is a master storyteller. Had he not had that gift, I am sure this novel wouldn’t have been for me, but all that aside, this is definitely a novel for me, and I think, honestly, it’s a novel for all teens and beyond. As a 36-year-old female, this novel resonated with me because it brings to life the characters across all age groups–from the 11-year-old brother to the 70 something-year-old coach–and it’s attention to detail and real-life love, hate, and betrayal make it a poignant read.

With the fate of the town riding on the backs of the junior hockey team, we meet a plethora of characters who all have a stake in the upcoming semi-final match, and the true beauty of friendship, loyalty, and the tenuous strings that connect us all are tested beyond measure as Maya, the young, beautiful 15-year-old daughter of Peter, the general manager of the Beartown hockey club, is brutally and savagely raped by the #1 hockey star favored to bring home the championship title–a title the entire town needs to breathe life back into it and create jobs for the many who find themselves laid off, and the divide between the haves and the have-nots growing larger year after year. Because the novel does deal with rape and the after-effects on the main characters and the town, I wanted to point that out specifically, because it could be a trigger for some perspective readers, and it is also the catalyst that drives the entire novel from around the 50% mark all the way to the end. The first half of the novel, I’d say, is more so exposition so that Backman has time to really portray the town and its people, fleshing them out and making them real, with hopes, dreams, aspirations, and the difficult choices they must make in order to live both with themselves and those around them; we all know people like Amat, Benji, Maya, Peter, Sune, and Kevin, just to name a few of the key characters in the novel; there are many more. But Backman does such an amazing job creating the many characters that I did not have trouble keeping them all straight, and their stories wove together to create this beautiful tale of humanity and how far we’ll go to help others and do what is right, even when that means our own lives, wants, and needs may be damaged beyond repair.

And the ending, well, let me just say I was playing detective throughout the entire novel trying to figure out which teenager would take the double-barreled shotgun into the forest late in March, who’s forehead he/she would place it against, and his/her reasoning for pulling the trigger, because nothing is cut and dry in this novel, and all of the characters can, and do, have a reason to pull that trigger. I was on pins and needles as the ending approached, especially once I pinpointed the who and why. This is a beautiful, raw look into the heart of small-town America and a world where sports can and will drive people to do the despicable to protect themselves and what they love, but it’s also a world where people will give up everything they’ve ever yearned for in order to do what is right, and that, right there, is the crux of what it means to be human. Five amazing stars.

I initially borrowed this novel from the library, but then bought it for my own personal library, as it is a must for my shelves.

Did you know that you can read this novel for FREE with a FREE TRIAL of Audible for 30 days? Try it today!

Kindle | Audible | Paperback | Hardcover

 



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