Beartown by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a slow-going adult read about small town sports. The "small town sports" category is enough to draw me in, even if this is about hockey, a sport that I don't know too much about. This takes place in Sweden, supposedly, although it screams "Northwoods" to me, and could have been set in Minnesota or Canada or northern Wisconsin or anywhere that hockey is king.
I've read my share of small town sports stories, including two from around me: One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach, and a Magical Baseball Season and Catch. All of them have something in common--the belief that small town sports are all that matters. I see that where I currently live, too, where softball is king. It's what girls are supposed to play. And, if you play softball in our town, you're expected to win, because, you know, the town always wins.
With these high expectations come assholes. And, like in the true tale of Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, "good" athletes are accused of bad things and often get away with it. We're heard horror stories about it with Speak and All the Rage. And Asking For It and all the other books I've read about rape and high school students (there are a lot of them).
Beartown is expected to win in hockey. So much so that the hockey players can skip class and call their teachers "sweet cheeks" and not be punished. They can strut down the hallways and not need to worry about leaving their anger on the rink--it's okay if they explode. In this novel, we get to know Kevin, the current and future star who is sure to turn pro, Amat, the little 14-year-old son of the rink cleaning lady, and Maya, the team GM's daughter who wants to be a professional musician. The story you have read before, but the way Backman tells it is unique. The rape culture in Beartown is hard to comprehend--it's even different for a woman to have a career and be a mother at the same time.
This was a difficult read for me, but I'm glad I pushed through it. Yes, it's about hockey, but it's really a character study of the teens and their parents and the stupid business sponsors of the team. Small town sports. Gotta love the hypocrisy and the inflation of the egos.
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