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Beartown by Frederik Backman

BOTTOM LINE: One of the best books I have read this year, if not ever.

Genre: Literary Fiction
Publication Date: 25 April 2017
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“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: Fredrik Backman’s latest novel is without a doubt one of the best books I have read. It is not just the story, which tears at your heartstrings and examines society’s flaws. His writing is gorgeous. His character development is precise but detailed. He does it all without the need for flowery prose or lengthy descriptions. Taken together, it is the type of novel that forces you to pause, to savor, to rest, to recover, and to question all while also entertaining.

Like so many other novels, it is best to go into Beartown without knowing much about it. This allows the story to unfold around you with no expectations or preconceptions, thereby fully drawing you into to it. Mr. Backman sets up the story with his opening sentence and never lets your attention wan after that. The story is not an easy one to read though, given its subject matter. However, he does an excellent job of presenting all sides of the story without judgment and with delicacy, making it an excellent choice for book clubs because there is so much to discuss. Readers will find themselves needing to take a break from the novel though because his words are so perfect that the emotional tension of the story gets to be overwhelming at times. Yet, even while not reading it, the story never releases its hold on you as you mull over everything that you just read.

To say that Beartown is a story about hockey is misleading. Hockey is just the sport chosen for the backdrop of the story. For American readers, one could easily replace hockey with football, basketball, or baseball. While it is at the center of the story, it is not a sports novel. It is about the power of sports and the fanaticism of sports fans, how one team can make or break a town. It is the darker side of sports, where the boundaries between real life and the game blur, and yet, it is a story about so much more than that.

Even if you were not fans of his previous novels, Beartown is more than worth taking a chance. It is a timely story, as professional athletes’ behavior on and off the field garners more scrutiny. It is a story to which almost everyone can relate in some way. Moreover, it is one that forces you to question the values society places on sports and athletes.

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