Skip to main content

Beartown

Review

Beartown

Late on an evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled 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. Thus begins BEARTOWN. Well, there is simply no resisting this book after that.

A town neither big nor small, stuck deep in the woods with a snowy climate, Beartown has little to exist for if not hockey. As each year passes, more businesses close, the population shrinks and the town grows increasingly glum. But this year, Beartown has a team that actually stands a chance of winning. And victory could bring life back to this slowly dying community. The closer they draw to the day of the final match, the more you can feel the excitement rumbling through the streets. There’s a fever building as the team practices, over and over. It reaches a crescendo as the Bears take on a daunting opponent in the semifinals. The whole town turns out to watch. Play by play.

"There’s so much heartbreak here, so much wisdom and raw emotion packed inside, that reading this novel makes for a powerful experience."

Kevin Erdahl, Beartown’s star player, is a kid with it all: talent, money, looks, a future virtually full of promise. He attracts guys and girls alike, teachers, even parents. Everyone wants to be his friend. However, his best friend, Benji, knows the real Kevin. And Beartown might be about to get a look at the real Kevin, too. What’s under the surface may not be what people have come to believe of their star. But can they afford to face the truth? Will they even try?

The night of the final arrives, and things come to a head, causing loyalties to split and tempers to flare. Soon the town spirals into an “us” and “them” mentality. Will they admit they can see the right path, or keep telling themselves a lie? Does a witness have enough strength to come forward, to go against the team? After all, in Beartown, the team is everything.

From the beginning, it’s all about hockey. At first, the story pace is slow, giving readers a chance to get to know the players, for there are many characters. In less talented hands than Fredrik Backman’s, that could make for a hard wade through the book, but Backman brilliantly shapes Kevin, Benji and the entire supporting cast. And once the characters are fully fleshed out and their positions are cemented --- on the team, in the classrooms, in the local bar, at the local garage --- the conflicts start simmering and boiling over. Classic teenage interactions complicated by social status, hormones and growing pains come into play, and the usual daily hurdles --- mindless bullying, hurtful remarks, fierce loyalty --- are there to get through.

But the team, well, there’s the special bond of the team. So when that really bad thing happens that threatens their best player, the entire town goes wild. And, with emotions running so high, the worst is yet to come. Backman deliciously builds suspense from those first gripping words and never lets up. And never lets his readers guess who shot who.

The author of A MAN CALLED OVE has a surefire bestseller with BEARTOWN. There’s so much heartbreak here, so much wisdom and raw emotion packed inside, that reading this novel makes for a powerful experience. I, for one, look forward to anything Fredrik Backman writes from this point on. He’s just that good.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on April 28, 2017

Beartown
by Fredrik Backman

  • Publication Date: April 25, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • ISBN-10: 1501160761
  • ISBN-13: 9781501160769