I grew up in a small-ish town north of Toronto where hockey was fairly central, not the most important thing by any means but something that drew community together. In Beartown, hockey seems to be the most important thing. It reminded me a lot of the role football plays in Dillon, Texas in Friday Night Lights.
Beartown came highly recommended and while I haven’t read any of Backman’s other books yet, I had seen the acclaim for A Man Called Ove. I was pretty sure it was going to be a good book but wasn’t sure I’d be too into it. I’m Canadian – I’m a hockey fan but wasn’t sure if that was going to be enough. It turned out that I was really into it – as I closed the book I thought “phenomenal” and when I finished it late last night, I almost wanted to start it again.
Beartown is about a small community in the forest that is slowly dying as shops close, schools shut down and industry fades but there is one big hope for, it seems, most of the town. The junior hockey team is playing in the national semi-final – a win here would get them to the national final and a win there could open the door to a hockey academy, a new arena and a rejuvenation of the town. Plus the national acclaim of a small hockey club. The pressure and anticipation on a group of teenage boys, their coach and the club’s GM keep the first part of the book almost racing forward as Backman introduces and jumps between a collection of characters – their view of what’s happening moves the story along and this continues throughout the book. I don’t want to give away too much of what happens but the following is from the inside of the book jacket:
I guessed pretty early on what the violent act would be and while it definitely wasn’t the first time I had encountered a story like that – sadly, it seems to happen far too often in real life – Backman told the story in what felt like a new way. It got to the heart of how a small community works and by telling the story through the perspectives of a fascinating collection of characters – teenagers, parents, teachers, coaches and people that love the game – that make up the town, I understood just how what happened could so easily happen.
And what I loved perhaps the most, is that he created some flawed characters who were ultimately strong and that payoff is so worth it. The following quote kind of summed it up for me:
“Like I said, Kira: People round here don’t always know the difference between right and wrong. But we know the difference between good and evil.” (Backman, page 391)
Beartown is definitely worth reading and I’m adding A Man Called Ove to my list!