Beartown, by Frederik Backman
The love a parent feels for a child is strange. There is a starting point to our love for everyone else, but not this person. This one we have always loved, we loved them before they even existed.
I adored Beartown and can honestly say I could not put it down. It was with me everywhere I went while I was reading it, and I would pick it up if I had five spare minutes of time. It has been compared to Friday Night Lights by many people, which can almost be a cliche because any sports-related movie or book is veered in that directly, but in this case it is absolutely right. Because the book isn't about the sport, it's about the people, both as individuals and as a community. The tale Backman spun is gripping, timely and hits absolutely dead on its mark. A masterful work that I whole-heartedly recommend, for many reasons.
It's a book about a town that did its worse, then tried to do better.
It's a book about every single one of the heartbreaks of being a parent. No, we can't protect them, not from illness or from men with hard hands. But we will refuse to understand that, even when the truth is staring us down with a gun in its hand.
It's a book about hockey culture, which is quite frankly disturbing. I'm not sure if I grew up in a hockey town - but it was a bedroom community to Edmonton and I know that hockey was important. We were meant to worship the hockey players, and the girls who hung around them were called "puck bunnies" affectionately ("puck fucks" much less affectionately), so yeah, it was gross. I get very much what Backman is talking about here. I bet most people in most small towns understand as well, even if your sport isn't hockey.
It's a book about what it means to belong to a team. I can't say I have much experience when it comes to teams, having never been on one myself. I consider my family like a team, my tribe, the people I would die for. But I've never been a part of a club that instills loyalty like that, that you would die for a coach or a teammate. I might not personally understand, but Backman did an excellent job of describing the ties those boys share with each other, and the strength and courage it would take to step out of line when you know it's the right thing to do.
Because, at the heart of it, Beartown is about courage. The thousand simple acts of courage it takes to bring an entire town back from the abyss. Sometimes it's as simple as telling your neighbour to shut up. I'm going to put a spoiler alert in here right now because I can't describe what the book means to me without getting into the nitty gritty of the story. So if you haven't read this book - go out and do so. Then meet me below the break so we can discuss exactly how many times your heart was broken.
Here are some of the moments of courage in Beartown that stood out for me. Each of these characters made their town, their family or their self better somehow by doing that which was hard, and right.
Ramona: For overcoming basically all her fears to bring a murderous gang of hockey lovers in line to restore order and justice in the town. Ramona is a badass.
David: For realizing how deeply he failed Benji and striving to be a better father than he was a coach.
Fatima: For beginning a new life as a refugee single mother in a strange land, working every hour of every day to provide for her son and not once backing down from her principles.
Peter: For finally stepping up to fight and Kira: for accepting that there are some fights she cannot win and must still try to be the best mother in an unjust world.
Maya: For speaking out when she knew she would have to do it to protect other girls, even when she knew exactly how many hearts would be broken in the aftermath, including her own.
Amet: Arguably Amet committed the largest act of courage because he had the most to lose. Maya would have been broken whether she spoke out or not, but Amet was being offered everything he had every dreamed of as a poor immigrant kid who wanted nothing more than to fit in. And to be brought into the fold of the in crowd, be given ultimate belonging and the adoration of the entire town, is a heady drug. It took him a minute but he finally, and dramatically, did what he could to make things right. And in doing so allowed Beartown to take a step in the right direction.
And asshat Kevin and his douchey crew leave town and take their whole toxic masculinity culture with them and the town begins to learn from its failures, and heal. And Kevin will never forget what he did, because Maya made sure he wouldn't.
I can't leave this without noting Benji, who was by far my favourite character, in part because as fucked up as he is, as complicated and hurting, he is always honest and true to himself. I never had the slightest hesitation in wondering whether he would do the right thing. His loyalty is earned, and once lost it's gone forever.
This book definitely earned a place in one of my favourites. Absolutely recommended.