Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Beartown is small. It’s cold. And it has hockey.

When the boys’ junior hockey team makes it to the semifinals and then onto the national title, there is more on the line than just a game. For a town like Beartown, winning means everything to the people… and the economy.

Teens Maya and Ana are the closest friends you’ve ever seen, spending more time together than they do with their families. They are trying to navigate the world of high school in a small town with big ambitions.

Benji and Kevin are stars on the hockey team. They get special treatment and are revered by their teammates, classmates, and the community as a whole. These two boys are inseparable.

The team makes it to the semifinals. Then the finals. But in between, they get mixed up with the politics of the hockey club, which is looking to make some personnel changes for ‘the good of the club.’ Family and friends create their own problems for the teens.

“The only thing the sport gives us are moments. But what the hell is life, Peter, apart, from moments?”

-Fredrik Backman, Beartown

When Maya has a secret to reveal, she contemplates the rippling effects the truth will have on the town… and the team.

How will the town go on if the team doesn’t win the final? What will happen to the jobs there if the new hockey facility is built in the next town over? What if their hockey staff isn’t there next year?

The twists and turns will have you begging for more. And you’ll become a hockey fan by the end!

For a non-sports fan, I really got into the sports. The hockey games were described as an action sequence with interspersed side stories. It never felt like a play-by-play, which is a major positive. If I wanted that I would turn on a real hockey game.

The main downside of Beartown was the excessive amount of characters. Think: Game of Thrones number of characters. I stopped keeping track after 20 were introduced. It’s like Backman wanted to make sure we met the whole town. Each character was unique, but I could’ve used more focus on about half of them, and cut the other half.

This is a real Friday Night Lights style book. This small town is literally only concerned with hockey. It’s their world. It’s their future.

The hockey players in the book are high schoolers, and they behave as such. If you don’t like young adult books at all, maybe stay away from this one. The story and content are for adults, but you might get annoyed with teenage behavior if you aren’t one.

My favorite character was Benji. He’s a loyal friend. He can sleep anywhere. He’s protective. He’s a team player. I was really pleased whenever his name came up because I wanted to know what antics this kid was going to get into next. He’s a bit of a troublemaker and he knows it. For whatever reason, he stood out to me all along.

“There are fewer words that are harder to explain than ‘loyalty.’ It’s always regarded as a positive characteristic, because a lot of people would say that many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.”

-Fredrick Backman, Beartown

Beartown is over 400 pages, making it uniquely long compared to other novels of the genre. The multitude of characters and POV shifts help account for this because Backman was really telling multiple stories at a time.

I’d recommend this book to a wide audience. It is written with suspense and interesting characters that you’ll miss when they’re gone.

There are a lot of big issues brought up in this book: rape, ‘trial-by-the-masses,’ social status, privilege, and death. This book gets real. Backman is not sugar-coating anything and that’s part of what makes this so good.

Overall, this was my favorite book of the month and will probably be up there in the top 10 for the year.

Highly recommend!!

Beartown has been adapted to a TV series streaming on HBO Max.

Don’t forget to check out author Fredrik Backman’s website here.

Thankfully, the second installment of the Beartown series, Us Against You, is already available for purchase.

The third, The Winners, will be released on October 4, 2022.

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