Beartown by Fredrik Backman. Translated by Neil Smith. New York: Atria Books, 2016. 418 pages. ****

The story opens with "a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else's forehead, and pulled the trigger." Beartown is a town that has lost most of its economic base, closed some schools, and is getting swallowed up by its desolateness. The town's hope for a bright future is hockey. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semifinals and the town is counting on their star player, Kevin. A win will change the lives of the team members and justify the choices that the general manager and coach have made for the boys and their families. The actions of the players at an unsupervised party the night before the game challenges the beliefs of the parents, townspeople and the players themselves. When the police remove one of their own from the bus on the day of the big game, the players and townspeople rally to support him even though his innocence is questioned by his best friend. 

Backman has tackled a difficult subject and this book is unlike his others. Initially, I was disappointed because if you have read my previous posts, I love his writings and was hoping for similar characters and plot. This is one of those books that starts out slow and I knew something tragic was unfolding based on the first few lines. Yes, it is a book about hockey, but it could be any town and any sport. When players are idolized and are seen to be above the rules of society and the adults turn a blind eye, anything can and does happen. There are no easy answers and even the players who stand up for what is right and just are beaten for their stance. It is through Backman's characters, that hope, love, and courage win over ego and violence. 

 I am not a sports fan and maybe some of the situations are predictable and cliched, however, Backman's unique character development gives this story an edge. Difficult to read at times because of the anticipated outcome, I couldn't "look away" and had to keep reading.

Recommended for Book Clubs, there are many cultural and societal issues addressed and are ripe for discussion.

Reviews of his other books, click here.

Fredrik Backman's stories have been published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children. Visit him online at his blog: FredrikBackman.com, on twitter @backmanland, or on Instagram @backmansk.

#beartown #fredrikbackman 

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