Beartown by Fredrik Backman – A Five-Star Book Review
Beartown is a mainstay in book club conversations and on Bookstagram, with so many reviews raving about the power of this book by Swedish author Fredrik Backman. It took me until 2023 to understand why.
I had trepidations about reading this book when I first heard about it. Ice hockey? Sexual assault? A tight-knit community’s reactions to one girl’s accusation of rape against the star hockey player right before the championship game? I didn’t think it was a book I’d enjoy, but while it took me several weeks to read it, the payout was so amazing.
What I Loved About Beartown
Beartown is a definite five-star book for me, with so many aspects that I loved. Here are a few.
The Themes of Beartown
On its simplest level, Beartown is laid out like the plot of a 1990s Lifetime Movie of the Week: the high school star athlete sexually assaults a vulnerable teenage girl, and the aftermath of this violence impacts everyone from the victim and perpetrator to the parents and townspeople surrounding them. But Backman weaves in themes of family, friendship, community, and justice in such a way that it is much more than an old TV movie starring Tori Spelling. He accomplished this by using multiple points of view, crafted with precision in beautiful prose and an awareness of the fragility of all that he includes.
The Writing of Backman
Backman wrote this book in Swedish, so I read the English translation. But, friends, the beauty of his words transcends languages. Not only are his syntax, diction, and skill on pointe, but also the level of detail and precision in descriptions are so impressive. And Backman is the king of foreshadowing, leaving important touchstones throughout the book to know you’re in safe hands as he guides you through the story.
The Relationships of the Characters
Every relationship within the community of Beartown is nuanced with tension and emotion. From the current l teammates and the adults who once skated the ice together, to the business owners and sponsors, to the parents and children and friends, there are layers of interactions, histories, and feelings.
My Personal Connection
I was sexually assaulted at 18, just two weeks into my freshman year at college. The perpetrator was a college boy who’d gone to high school with my dorm roommate, and he was a member of the fraternity associated with my sorority. I was embarrassed and frightened, in denial for the most part. I’d been so desperate to be liked, I kept my mouth shut. Other than making light of the bruises on my arms, I didn’t tell anyone the truth about what happened until three months later during an emotional breakdown fueled by vodka and desperation.
So I deeply empathized with Maya in this story, and it brought up many emotions surrounding the responses from family and friends when I finally explained what happened. This is probably why I resisted reading this book for so long, but what Backman wrote resonated with me on many levels, and I deeply appreciate his tender, honest look at what happens to those impacted by trauma.