I am not sure I’ve seen a book more raved about on #Bookstagram than Beartown. That alone piqued my curiosity, along with the fact that I adored Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove.
I heard that Beartown was nothing like A Man Called Ove, a totally different voice for the Swedish author. My mom picked it up at the bookstore because she too read A Man Called Ove, but Beartown didn’t hook her. Too different, too sad. I knew there was a possibility I’d side with the Bookstagram community and love it, and a chance I’d side with my mom and dislike it.
The former turned out to be the most true. I did dislike the book in the beginning and absolutely loved it in the end.
Beartown is about a small town, obviously called Beartown, where the woods are creeping in, businesses are closing and the townspeople struggle to find jobs and deal with the endless dark winter. But there are two things that keep them from moving away: resilience and hockey. As the book begins, the junior hockey team in Beartown is about to compete in the semifinals, and if they win, bring people and jobs and the golden days of hockey back to this small backwood town. (Side note: You don’t have to like hockey to enjoy this book.)
Then an act of violence threatens to tear everything, and everyone, apart. I won’t go into too many details on that, because while I’m not sure it’s a spoiler, I don’t want to take the chance. I’ll just say the act and the way in which the townspeople reacted to it is all too common, and all too infuriating. It made me mad and frustrated, which are emotions I don’t usually like feeling when reading. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on, wasn’t sure how I wanted the book to play out. But I knew I had to keep reading.
And all I’ll say is that I am glad I did. Backman does not ties things up with a pretty little bow, but he also understands that while humans are flawed, many have the capacity for generosity and compassion and kindness not seen on the surface. This book addresses it all: family, friendships, love, ignorance, bravery, fragility, cowardice, hate, and community.
I didn’t expect to be all-out sobbing at the end, turning back to it after the last page and reading over passages again. Wondering if I should start it all over from the beginning now that I see the ending. It took me a while to leave Beartown, and while I’m not going to return right away, I know I will at some point. There’s a sequel waiting, Us Against You, and I’ll need to revisit Beartown before I’m ready to see what happens next.
Five out of five stars.