Back to Beartown
Fredrik Backman’s engrossing fifth book is a sequel to Beartown, his 2017 novel set in a small town on the edge of a Swedish forest. As Us Against You opens, Beartown’s future is threatened: first by the possible closure of its only factory, and second by the bankruptcy faced by the town’s hockey club. Hockey isn’t merely a game to the town’s inhabitants—their whole lives revolve around the Bears’ wins and losses.
Beartown’s anxiety is further fueled by a major shift in the Bears’ team roster. After the rape of the general manager’s daughter, Maya, by a team member, as chronicled in Beartown, the team was torn apart. Some Bears abandoned the team and joined the Bulls from the neighboring town of Hed. Those who stayed in Beartown are some of the best players, but the remaining team lacks the size and experience of the Bulls.
Backman’s latest saga focuses on the first hockey season following the schism, brilliantly portraying the way each magnetic character copes with the hatred and violence that has engulfed these two small towns as their teams prepare to do battle. Maya struggles to move on from her traumatic experience, constantly aware that many blame her for the team’s demise. Her best friend, Ana, carelessly reveals that their friend Benji, one of the team’s best players, is gay. Maya’s parents, Peter and Kira, constantly face backlash from a town that blames their report of Maya’s rape for the team’s problems. Vidar, the younger brother of one of the town bullies, is mysteriously released from a detention camp to be the Bears’ goalie. Ramona, a widow who runs the local bar, lovingly supports the pack of “hooligans” who resort to violence in support of their team. The new Bears coach is a woman, an ex-professional player who struggles to gain the acceptance of the town and her players. And lurking in the background is a Wizard of Oz-like figure—a politician trying to manipulate the team and factory to enrich his own pockets.
Backman stirs this volatile mélange of disparate characters until the inevitable explosion occurs, leaving Beartown sadder but perhaps wiser than before. His depiction of this small town will resonate especially with readers who struggle with the racism, homophobia and misogyny that exist in their own communities.
This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.