Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Title: Beartown
Author: Fredrik Backman
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publishing Date: April 25, 2017

Synopsis from publisher's website:
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.

Beartown was pitched to me by the wonderful team at Simon & Schuster Canada as part of their pre-release activities for the book. The winner of the giveaway and I both received finished copies. Before I started reading it, all I knew about it was what was written in the synopsis above.

Beartown is a hockey town. The community thrives on the sport and nothing brings them closer together (or tears them apart) more than their passion for the game. A team of 17 year old boys have the weight of their town on their shoulders as they head into the semi- final match. The team has been together for ten years, training for this moment. Everyone from their coach, club president, team sponsors and parents constantly reminds them that winning could secure more funding for their hockey club and put their town back on the map.
"The only thing the sport gives us are moments. But what the hell is life, Peter, apart from moments?" p109
Though hockey takes center stage in this, Beartown also walks readers though the perspectives of various inhabitants of Beartown uncovering layers of additional themes that touch upon classism, substance abuse, violence, ageism, and bullying to name a few.
"He turns sixteen today, and all his life he has been teased and rejected. About everything. His looks, thoughts, manner of speech, home address. Everywhere. At school, in the locker room, online. That wears a person down in the end. It's not always obvious, because the people around a bullied child assume that he or she must get used to it after a while. Never. You never get used to it. It burns like fire the whole time. It's just that no one knows how long the fuse is, not even you." p327
The one central theme that resonated for me was around sexual assault.
"For the perpetrator, rape lasts just a matter of minutes. For the victim, it never stops." p177
The town's unwillingness to talk about it, victim shaming and viewing the perpetrator as the victim. These are all things we have seen happen in our own modern day society and I applaud Fredrik Backman for putting it front and center.
"Words are not small things." p234
Beartown is a masterpiece. Fredrik Backman's writing, from his meticulous character development down to his ability to elicit an abundance of emotions, is like nothing I've ever read. This engaging and captivating novel will hit a chord down to your core. Beartown easily makes it on my all-time favourite book list. The extra star in my rating above is no mistake!

Backman will not let you down. I will simply leave you all with one of my favourite quotes from the book…
"There's a thin line between living and surviving, but there's one positive side effect of being both romantic and very competitive: you never give up." p123

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of Beartown by Fredrik Backman from Simon & Schuster Canada for an honest review. All opinions are my own.


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