Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

by Fredrik Backman
Read by Marin Ireland
13 hours, 11 minutes
Published April 2017 by Atria Books

Publisher's Summary: 
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.

My Thoughts: 
I am almost certain that I read the summary of this book before I started listening to it; and, yet, there is a line in that summary thought should have caught my eye and given me a clue as to what might be coming at a certain point in the book. It didn't. Which made this book veer into territory I did not see coming at all which made it a much tougher book to read. And which has me debating as to whether or not I should tell you so that you can be forewarned. I'll think about that as I type on. 

I never cease to be amazed by how great Fredrik Backman is at creating interesting and unique characters to populate his books. Here he is playing with a large cast and yet every one of the characters stands on his or her own and Backman is able to make readers understand, if not sympathize, with each of them. These are people you've met, in situations you know, even if hockey's never been your thing. Backman is Swedish and I understood that the book was set in Sweden, but this is a book that could have been set anywhere, in any town where a sport is the life blood of the community, in any small town that is slowly dying. 

While I've never been much a fan of hockey, I have lived my entire life in a state obsessed with football, a state where people are growing more and more obsessed with volleyball. I can understand how a town's entire focus, entire hope for the future, relies on the success of its sports team. How the boosters can rule the decisions of a team. How the hometown hero, returned home from glory, falls from grace. I know parents like Peter and Kira, young girls who have been through what Maya goes through, young men who are idolized in the way that Kevin is, young people who struggle in the way the Benji does, and relationships which are tested in the ways they are in this book. In other words, even though I don't know hockey, I do know the people in this book and what they go through.

I cannot recommend the audiobook version of this book highly enough. Marin Ireland is amazing; her ability to voice the wide range of characters is astonishing. Even more astonishing is her ability to channel the emotions of the book. I wish I could "read" the next installment of the Beartown series in audio; but it won't be available for months and I don't want to wait that long. I have already requested the third book in audio, though. 

Some things you should know about Fredrik Backman: 
  • He's only 41 years old yet writes like a man who has already lived a lifetime. 
  • He appears to have lived his entire life in Sweden yet writes like a man who has studied the world and understands that certain things are universal.
  • He's a man. Yes, I know that seems obvious. Until you read his books, particularly this one.  
And here's where I decide that I need to give you that trigger warning I talked about earlier. Fifteen-year-old Maya is raped (I pondered softening that to sexually assaulted but why not call it what it is?). It's not uncommon in a book. What is uncommon is the level of understanding and compassion that Backman exhibits. I couldn't help but wonder if he didn't love someone who had experienced rape; it's so rare to read about the aftermath in such a realistic and honest way, even by female writers. Perhaps it will make it easier for those who have never experienced rape in their lives understand it better; perhaps it makes it even harder for those who have suffered it to read this book. For someone who has had to deal with the aftermath of rape, reading this book brought it all back so vividly. But it was also a comfort to know that there are people out there who understand, made all the more amazing to know that a man can put it into words that are so understanding. 


  1. I read this in early 2021 and gave it a 5-star rating. I thought it was brilliant, which surprised me since I expected the hockey theme to be dull and something I'd have to endure to enjoy the rest of the story. I read the print edition, but now I'm thinking I should have listened to the audio. She's a great narrator, isn't she? My review's here, if you're interested.

  2. Great review! This is one that I put on my TBR list last year and hope to finally read this year. :D