The Winners by Fredrik Backman

In this long-awaited third in the Beartown trilogy, we return to the scene of the 2-year truce between Beartown and its rival town, Hed. While the death of a teenager had forced everyone to acknowledge that things had gone too far, and everyone had united in mourning over that loss, it appears that unity could not possibly hold forever. The rivalry was as deeply ingrained in folks’ DNA as was hockey itself. The truce was just too fragile. Just a bit of a personal dispute among young teens over a sister with a history, a cover-up of some controversial bookkeeping of the city council, and some other very complicated alliances, and you have the coming apart of that very vulnerable truce. And who will show strength and who will show weakness is what we hold our collective breaths over throughout the whole story. And you can never be sure.

Yet again, Backman has brought us back to Beartown, reunited us with our dear friends and introduced us to a few new ones. Each one is so carefully drawn, so lovingly portrayed, that they feel as if they are actual humans that we can travel to Sweden and find in a small town just outside a forest. Their stories are similarly complex, layered over each other in an interconnecting web, just as you’d find in a small town. The suspense continues to build, and just when you think you see where the plot line is heading, there is yet another twist that throws you off its trail. Backman’s true gift.

One tip: I’d suggest spacing out the novels, because Backman does such a good job of reminding us of who the characters are and how they are related to each other, likely to create standalone novels. However, reading them too close together may feel a bit repetitive, because of these explanations.

Otherwise, this is a beautifully written trilogy – even if you don’t love hockey and even if you don’t come from a small town that does.

 

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

In this second in the Beartown trilogy, we happily find ourselves back in Beartown, where we learn that the sacred hockey A team has lost its funding. That is, until a shadow company suddenly appears through the machinations of an ambitious politician, propping up Peter Andersson, the team’s general manager. There is one minor condition, however: the team’s most ardent (and most intimidating) supporters, the “Pack,” will lose their spot in the stands.  Because of Beartown’s small town interconnections, this stipulation has big implications, further dividing the population in mean ways.  As their games approach, their rivalry with the opposing team of Hed grows fierce, and what should be “just a game” goes far beyond.

Backman once again has kept this reader utterly glued to this novel, as it has everything one could want – complex characters with palpable hearts; a plot that is elaborate but clear; and writing that is insightful but not preachy.

The warm love Backman feels for his characters is contagious.   Backman has a way of showing the vulnerability of some who are troubled, where it may originate from, and how those who are labelled as “bad” may actually be so good, particularly when it really matters. The members of the “Pack,” for example, who, on the outside, appear as “hooligans” are fiercely loyal to each other and to so many folks in Beartown. When someone is in need or disaster strikes, they are the first ones there to help, to do whatever menial task is necessary. That is loyalty and that is what good people do. While they are described as having unconventional ways of expressing themselves, yes, and they may sometimes end up on the wrong side of the law, they are nevertheless the ones folks rely upon. 

This is a beautiful story, once again. And I look forward to when #3 comes out, next month – I am guessing we won’t be disappointed! 

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

If you don’t play hockey, or follow hockey, or at least tolerate hockey, you will not last long in Beartown. The entire population, intimate as it is, is consumed with it. Kids begin skating once they can walk, and everyone is on the lookout for those charmed few, those who have that natural gift, that drive, that will send them through to the A-team. Kevin certainly has it, and with Benji at his side, fighting off any opponent who might threaten his path, he is a sure shot. That is, until a crime is committed, which might just change everything.

Fredrik Backman is another writer who, by virtue of the beauty of his writing, has me convinced that there is no way I should ever even think of trying to write. He has the uncanny ability to weave complicated, layered, and realistic plot lines around complex and gorgeous characters.  And unlike with some novels with so many characters, we come to know each one so well that we never confuse any of them, never wonder who is whom, because we have fallen in love with most of them. The warmth with which he imbues them grants them their familiarity. They become our dear friends.

Also, there is a beautiful message here about the challenge of loyalty; whether that be loyalty to one’s family, to one’s friends,  to one’s team., or to one’s own values. Most of the characters find themselves wrestling here with conflicting loyalties. and some impress us and some disappoint us. But all of them are so stunningly human in their struggling. My favorite is Ramona, who is a bartender. She’s depicted as someone who’s seen it all, and who has been loyal to those who have lost the loyalties of most everyone else. She sees people for who they are, not who they profess to be. I would love to be more like Ramona.

This book has it all – characters, plot, warmth, important message – all the makings of a MUST READ!