Beartown — Fredrik Backman

Read Date: May 3, 2019
Rating: 5/5
Format: Print Book

“Culture is as much about what we encourage as what we permit.”

The smaller-than-small town of Beartown is home to very little and is dwindling with each passing year, but their potential saving grace comes in the form of the Beartown Bears hockey team, who has made it to the semifinals for the first time in, well, forever. The semi- and finals mean more to this town than anyone could’ve imagined: a victory would lead to the national government choosing Beartown to be the home of a prestigious hockey academy, thus kickstarting the Beartown economy, and so on. What I’m getting at here: the stakes are HIGH.

Throughout the course of Beartown we come to know members of the team, members of the club staff and sponsors, school faculty, all their subsequent families, and essentially we become integrated into the town’s daily life. Backman’s expertise shines through, however, in his allusion to all those small-town political elements that are so easy to overlook in our daily lives, but become glaringly obvious when you see them on the page in a different town’s context.

Some highlights of what we see: “locker room talk”, ” boys being boys”, “staying in one’s lane”, etc. I recall thinking early on that the boys on this team were absolute brutes, and I was shocked at the way they comported themselves, spoke to their teachers, treated the girls at their school, and so on, knowing all the while that nothing would be done to stop it. The list could go on, but I’d be remiss if I don’t acknowledge one integral plot point. *LOOSE SPOILER ALERT, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK* When one of the star players rapes the daughter of the general manager, she faces a crucial dilemma: can she report this without destroying her image, her father’s career, and the town’s chances of restoration?

Beartown is incredibly timely and eye-opening. As someone who was born and raised– and still now living– in a small town, I can attest to the reality of these mini-hierarchies throughout the community. Seeing them laid out in a new setting raises your awareness of exactly what people can get away with if they play the right sport, have the right last name, donate enough money, etc. There are few books I’ve read that inspire me to think, “Everyone should read this”, but I feel certain that everyone should read this. Whether you end up identifying with a character or recognizing a scenario, your awareness of what goes on behind closed doors will skyrocket.

The plot and its elements are so important, and the writing is spirited and lyrical. As this is a translation, I know I can only place so much weight on that, but the beauty of phrasing and imagery does still serve as an additional ingredient of the Beartown‘s mastery and impact.

The quote with which I started this review has been niggling at my mind nonstop since I read it, so I will leave you again with it now, and I hope you can carry it with you and integrate it into your world.

“Culture is as much about what we encourage as what we permit.”

Get Beartown here or at your local library, and enjoy! Happy reading 🙂

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