Book Review: Beartown

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Beartown, Fredrick Backman
Translated from Swedish

Ah, what a good read this was. I first got interested in that book because it’s about ice hockey! Leo has been an avid fan of ice hockey since December and the whole family (except Jude!) has taken that passion seriously. We’ve watched every Ducks game on TV, we went to 4 live games, we enrolled him in lessons, and we play roller hockey with him every evening in the garage or outside. This is some serious affair! So when this book that deals with a youth hockey team that has to grapple with, as the description says, “a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil” (child protection issue!) was published, I had to check it out.

The book starts out slowly. 150 pages in, the “violent act” in question had not yet happened. The author takes his time to describe the town and its main players (no pun intended. Ok, maybe). The rhythm is slow, like the town. Each character is established and set in relationship to others. We almost get lulled by the routine… this is sleepy Beartown. Not much happens, though the town is excited about the upcoming ice hockey junior tournament semi-final. 

When the incident happens, the rhythm wildly accelerates. And it doesn’t stop. I actually had to close the book and pause when it happened because it was so sudden -even though I had been expecting it. The ramifications of the incident on the lives of the characters we’ve come to know are numerous and deep. Readers are caught in the lives of all individuals and the events unfolding -I can’t say much more without spoiling the plot.

This book was gripping, realistic, and touching. I loved Kira, Maya's (the young girl) mom. Some other characters were also captivating, such as Amat, the son of an Afghan refugee, and Benji, who’s hiding his own secret.

The only annoying tidbit in the story were incursions from the omniscient narrator, giving us a worrying preview of what was to come. For instance, after Kira tells her daughter you can only survive the town, not live in it, the author writes: “Neither of them has any idea just how true that is.” But those mystery-type sentences were few and far between and didn’t disrupt the narration. They just made me roll my eyes at times.

Overall, I think my own interests in ice hockey and child protection made this book much more compelling. I don’t know whether someone without any interest in either topic would find this as enjoyable -but I think the writing is solid and the storyline convincing. I’d recommend it without a doubt.

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