A spoiler free review of Beartown by author Fredrik Backman followed by the summary of the novel.
Spoiler Free Review
Beartown comes to us from the author of A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman. I’ve only read these two of his books so far but his immaculate character development will keep me coming back for more for many years to come.
This novel is the story of a small town obsessed with hockey and the event that tears them all apart. A drunken act of violence causes the residents to take sides between a male hockey star and a female student. We’ve seen this story before in the news and know that it never turns out a happy ending.
The characters in this small town drive the story. We see their perspectives, their opinions, and how they all got to where they are in this rundown town in the middle of nowhere. Their relationships are complicated and run much deeper than city folk who only see each other in passing. Here, decades long friendships will be ruined by the events of high schoolers.
The beginning of the book, in my opinion, was a little bit slow. I don’t care about hockey at all so all of the hockey talk turned me off. However, once the narrative shifted I couldn’t put the book down. I had to know what happened and if what I considered to be justice would get served.
We know from the very beginning of the book how it will end. A teenager pulls the trigger of a gun pointed on an unknown victim. We don’t know who these two characters are and spend the whole book wondering which ones get to this point. Many of the characters are likely to be the shooter or the victim.
Beartown is an agonizing book to read. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book, but the content is maddening. I was furious, frustrated, disheartened, and sympathetic as I turned pages hoping for some sort of miraculous happy ending. Of course, the stories that need to be told are often not the easiest to read.
Life is full of tough subjects and it’s best to discuss them openly. Keeping secrets or refusing to learn from the past keeps us from progressing. This novel brings tough subjects to the forefront and tells you that you cannot look away. These issues are happening right now, even in your small town.
Read Beartown and let me know which Backman book should be next on my list.
5/5 bears 🐻🐻🐻🐻🐻
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This book has since been adapted into a TV series for HBO.
Beartown has a startling opening where a teenager holds a gun on someone and pulls the trigger. We do not know which teenager or who is the victim. The book then goes to the beginning to tell us how they got to that point. The whole book will be spent wondering which characters get to this ending.
Beartown is a small rural town that has nothing going for it except their hockey teams. They are known for hockey and strive to be the best. The fate of their town’s economy rests on a winning finals game to bring in a hockey school to revitalise the dying city.
Everybody in the town is tied to the sport in one way or another. Amat is the son of an immigrant who hopes his talents will bring his family out of poverty. Maya is the daughter of the team manager who hates hockey and only wants to play guitar. Kevin is the team superstar born of wealth and privilege.
The book bounces around all of the characters as it builds their relationships to each other. Knowing how everyone is connected is integral to understanding their conflicts. These story snippets hint at who could be involved in the eventual shooting. We see who has grudges and who owns guns.
In the days leading up to the first of two big games the players and coaches are so nervous many of them throw up getting ready. Amat is noticed during his practice and invited to join the team and play. He’s been dreaming of this. The players are less welcoming as they bully and abuse him for being new, young, and darker skinned.
However, their opinions change when he truly shines during the game and aids them in their victory. He goes with the team and many fans to a big celebration party. This party will change the lives of every citizen of Beartown forever.
The kids get really drunk and amongst the chaos Kevin invites Maya upstairs to his bedroom. At first Maya is okay with kissing but as Kevin rips her blouse she does not want to take it any further. She tries to get away but the much stronger Kevin holds her down and rapes her.
Amat, who has a huge crush on Maya, finds them in the aftermath. Kevin has claw marks on his arms and Maya takes her bruises and her torn shirt and runs from the scene.
Maya decides to keep this secret to herself. She’s realistic enough to know that everyone will side with the star hockey player and no one will care about the opinion of a drunk girl. She’s terrified, depressed, sickened, and completely beaten down but she opts to isolate in her room instead of tell anyone.
Due to emotional distress both Kevin and Maya manage to harm their relationships with their best friends after these events. Both of their mothers can also tell that something is wrong but don’t know how to address it.
Kevin becomes an even shinier star when the NHL shows interest in recruiting him. He has even more to lose now. Simultaneously, Amat is finally being accepted by the team and doesn’t want to jeopardize his relationship with Kevin.
Ana, Maya’s best friend, finds out about the rape and encourages her to tell someone. On the day of the finals, the biggest game of all, Maya decides to speak up. She tells Peter, her father and the manager of the team, and he tells the police. They arrive to detain Kevin right as the team is boarding the bus to go to the game.
They lose the game without Kevin there and the town turns violently angry against Maya and her family. They become convinced that it’s all some sort of conspiracy to make the Beartown hockey team lose. Peter is suspended from his job and the dreams of a hockey academy are dashed.
Kevin’s best friend Benji is one of the few to believe Maya and abandon Kevin’s side. Most of the town backs him as the poor victim of a rape accusation. Kevin’s dad even approaches Amat with a bribe to keep him from speaking up.
The violence escalates as some boys throw a rock through Maya’s bedroom window. Her mom snaps and chases them down with a golf club. Maya, the true victim, is made to be the responsible one and stop her mom from doing something justified but regrettable.
The town board holds a meeting to vote on Peter’s removal from the manager position. At the heated meeting Amat decides to formally speak up and tell everything he saw that night. This changes the tides of opinion for more than a few people in the room, even if they wouldn’t say so out loud.
The board votes in favor of Peter but he might not have a job anyway as the team would rather move to an adjacent town than stay under his leadership.
A mob of hockey players attack Amat in the street. Only one defends him.
Then, as if it was nothing at all, the case is dismissed for lack of evidence. According to official record Kevin is not a rapist. Justice will not be served.
Maya has not been vindicated so she decides to take matters into her own hands. We get to the opening scene with Maya holding the gun to Kevin’s head. She pulls the trigger with the gun aimed just shy of hitting him. Now he’s the one who gets to be scared. That has to feel unsafe. It’s not a perfect justice but it will have to do.
The ending of the Beartown novel flashes forward to 10 years later with most of the characters doing moderately well for themselves in one way or another. They’ve moved on whether they wanted to or not. Sometimes that’s just how life goes. Trauma may not leave us but the events are in the past.
These he said/ she said cases are extremely common and have been politicized in a way that no healthy society should have to endure. The reader knows that Maya is the victim but we’ve seen in real life how every story can be twisted and manipulated to serve someone else’s wants. It’s sickening.
Beartown is not an easy read. You will likely find yourself very frustrated, angry, saddened, and reflective but it is a valuable read that shows the mindset of the people on the other side. Now can we all just agree that rape is bad please?
5/5 bears 🐻🐻🐻🐻🐻
If you like Beartown you might also like Azalea Heights.