Beartown by Fredrik Backman (Book Review)

Publisher: Washington Square Press
Page Count
: 415

CW: rape, physical assault, racism, homophobia, substance abuse, suicidal ideation

I’ve wanted to read Beartown for the longest time. Many people I know have read and liked it, but I especially keep thinking of my good friend Lois @My Midnight Musing when I think about the book. She, too, encouraged me to pick it up and it’s not even like I didn’t want to. I really did! I was just also extremely scared. Somehow I just knew that once I would start reading it, this would become one of my all time favourite books and … I was not mistaken, but it was also so incredibly emotional.

“One of the plainest truths about both towns and individuals is that they usually don’t turn into what we tell them to be, but what they are told they are.”

Backman talks about Beartown and makes it seem like it could be in pretty much any country (although it’s set in Sweden). He has a talent in taking this small community in the middle of nowhere that has no other topic than hockey to talk about and make it seem like the most relatable town there is. They are tight-knit yet judgmental, they are proud but also so very hopeful for a better future, they are hard-working to the point of breaking … they are full of shame and guilt.

“Difficult questions, simple answers. What is a community?
It is the sum total of our choices.”

For a town that likes difficult questions and simple answers, I feel like the book gives the reader the exact opposite experience. It asks seemingingly simple questions about sports, community, parenthood, culpability, friendship, family and love. You, for yourself, might even have very clear answers on what those things mean to you, but Backman makes sure you see all the angles. You might not always agree, but it sure will make you think.

There is a relief in finding a character at the beginning of a story, latching on to them and finding out that they truly are the shining light you hoped them to be. In the grand scheme of things, the adults are definitely far worse than the kids/teens, but there were still some incomprehensible choices made all around. With so many disappointments and resentment building towards certain people in this story, I was so appreciative of the ones that did the right thing over and over again, no matter how hard or impossible it seemed. I even developed a certain pride for people as if they were my own children/siblings/loved ones.

“If you are honest, people may deceive you. Be honest anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfishness. Be kind anyway. All the good you do today will be forgotten by others tomorrow. Do good anyway.”

I don’t want to go into detail about what happens in the novel. The foreshadowing, and I am not sure you can really call it that, since it’s so very blatant and in your face, is cruel. Your heart picks up pace every time you turn the page wondering when the inevitable destructive act will take place. Not one moment goes by where you don’t know that happiness is fleeting and soon these lives will crumble to pieces. You are just not certain if they will be able to rebuild it all.
At the end, you might ask yourself if justice was dealt, but things will never be the same for the characters either way. I think our actual real life justice system fails people over and over all the time. People make victims out of predators and treat others less humane depending on their value to the community. It’s heartbreaking in a way you want to do nothing but sob for days, but it’s also realistic. You cannot always sugarcoat reality. We, as humanity, still have so much farther to go and I enjoyed how Backman lit the situations from so many different angles. Although my answer is clear. No, there was no real justice.

Fazit: 5/5 stars! I think this one will stick with me for a long while.


Have you read Beartown? Would you like to? Have you read any of the other novels Fredrik Backman has written? Let’s chat!

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe (Book Review)

Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Page Count
: 384

I know it’s a silly point to start with, but I love the cover of this book! I love the colors, I love the illustration, I even love the extremely long title and the perfect placement of it. Most of all, I love that, now that I have read the book, I can tell you exactly who is who on that cover and it fits them to the t. Having said all that, my gushing shall continue about the contents of The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, because this book was so much fun!

When I was 15 years old, I did an exchange semester in the US. Even to this date, with many a different experience abroad, it is one of the most memorable times of my life. I don’t know why, but for a second I thought this book was about a French-Canadian exchange student (that did happen at my US high school, so it’s not that weird of a concept), but no, Norris’ mum plans to move her son to Texas permanently. In hindsight, that makes so much more sense! Because why else would he absolutely hate the idea of being there, since he would have never if he had chosen to go himself. Nevertheless, most things Norris knew about American high schools, he knew from TV shows (just like myself) and he wasn’t surprised to find a lot of these things actually being true, while then realising that there’s always more to people than what you can see at first glance.

I thought this book was a fresh take on usual high school stories. I especially appreciated how the end wasn’t an end at all, while it still left you at a very satisfactory place. Norris, while being very judgmental to the point that it can get annoying sometimes, is a really funny character. I found myself laughing out loud several times. That’s not to say that there aren’t also deep and personal issues discussed. There’s moving to another country, getting raised by one parent and getting neglected by another, the expectation for children of immigrants to succeed, living with mental health issues, being black in America, selflessness and selfishness and to what degree we need to act upon them. Those weren’t even all topics mentioned, but somehow they were all included in effortless ways that made sense for both the story and character. Really, every character has their own story to tell and layers to uncover. I can always appreciate that! 

Lastly, the only reason that this isn’t a 5-star-read is that I found myself incredibly frustrated with the romantic storyline. Norris early on crushes on someone he himself calls a “manic pixie dream girl”, which should already tell you that she is not who he is meant to be with. Yet, he keeps pining after her even though she is downright mean to him sometimes and stringing him along in the most obvious ways, even when there is the kindest and sweetest girl right in front of him! I know it’s part of the drama and obviously was also needed for the big blow-up in the last act of the story, but I wouldn’t have minded if none of that ever happened. It was quite nice to just have a mostly happy story trickling along, with hick ups along the way, but just people who dealt with it rather than had a massive drama.

Fazit: 4/5 stars! A fun and quick read about a very teen experience.

Have you read this book? Do you want to? Let’s talk about it.