Beartown by Fredrik Backman

432 pages

Genre: Fiction/Drama

Published by Simon and Schuster

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Re-readability: I will most likely not re-read this one.

Reviewed by Indiana

In Beartown, the only thing that seems to matter to most people is hockey. It gives the townspeople pride for the frozen, middle-of-nowhere place they call home. But the sport quickly becomes the center of Beartown’s trouble when a star hockey player can’t separate his on-ice aggression from his life outside the rink.

It’s the story of how one night can change a small town forever, of how some of our greatest strengths are also our strongest weaknesses and why no one should ever stop standing up for the truth.

Backman’s other books, A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry are wonderful. He’s got this fantastic voice where you feel like you’re reading a Pixar-movie. His characters are vibrant and they stay with you long after they’re stories have ended.

Thus, I thought I had every reason to sit back and enjoy Beartown. But Beartown is like his A Casual Vacancy—the one Rowling wrote after she finished the Harry Potter series.

It felt like he needed a palate cleanser, like he wanted to write a more “serious” work. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like the characters were as vibrant. Some of them certainly had interesting stories—Benji was one character in particular who pleasantly surprised me throughout the book. But the cast of characters as a whole didn’t stay with me.

I also had an issue with the near-constant stream of “wisdom sentences.” At the start of nearly every chapter, Backman opens up with these wise observations or life lessons that set the scene for the whatever the characters learn during that chapter. He also alluded to almost all of the dramatic moments of the book well before they happened so the reader knew everything in advance. It didn’t motivate me to read on.

That being said, I thought the pieces of wisdom Backman expresses through the characters’ actions were poignant. He tackles the process of changing a town that is systemically diseased really well and doesn’t sugarcoat it in any way. Backman also makes the reader question where they stand on lots of simple, everyday ethical questions. Is it okay to tell a dirty joke to teammates in a locker room? Does it really mean anything if the person who would find the joke offensive can’t hear? How far should we push our children to find success?

Although I won’t be picking this one up again, I will still probably try to read his other one, Britt-Marie was Here. That one seems more in-line with A Man Called Ove. Not that I want to stick him in a writer’s box. I just want to go back to his Pixar-like books for now.

What did you think? Did Beartown blow you away? Let me know in the comments section below!

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