These book reviews of Beartown and Us Against You by Fredrik Backman give you the details of these modern classics about a hockey town and its community members. And because this is a book pairings blog “where books meet lifestyle,” I have also provided some recommended book pairings for more like it.
Book Reviews: Beartown and Us Against You by Fredrick Backman
Simply put, Beartown and Us Against You by Fredrik Backman are as close as we may get to modern classics, by Fredrik Backman (of A Man Called Ove fame), and they follow the lives of an ensemble of inhabitants of a cold and forgotten hockey-obsessed town. What makes them so classic is the painstaking detail in which each character is developed and each sentence is structured to tell an interwoven story that, at the end of the day, is about the complexity of humanity.
Review of Beartown
First things first - Beartown is the coming-of-age story of the junior ice hockey team on a quest to compete in the national semi-finals. It starts with a cliffhanger:
Late one evening...a teenager picked up a shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else's forehead and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there.
As the town eats, sleeps and breathes Beartown hockey, the team members struggle to withstand the pressure, and an act of violence traumatizes a young woman with a connection to the team. Beartown is left in turmoil, as the community debates accountability and sports when the end goal is always, "win!"
The word "bang" is repeated throughout the pages: Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. "Bang" is hockey pucks being hit. "Bang" is a gun being shot. In short, this is the kind of book that leaves you with a hangover and wanting more.
Review of Us Against You
Us Against You is just that.
When you strip away all the nonsense surrounding it, the game is simple: everyone gets a stick, there are two nets, two teams. Us against you.
Drama resumes as Beartown learns that its beloved hockey team will soon be disbanded. Beyond that, some of the team members have transferred to the rival team in Hed. The team and its community face new challenges as the rivalry reaches a "head," and this is where Backman weaves his intimate character portraits of the struggling and complex townsfolk we met in Beartown.
Here, we learn what makes each person tick. Deep, dark secrets are exposed, dreams are sought after, politics play out, relationships crumble and, sadly, not everyone survives.
The publisher described the story best:
As the big match approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt grows deeper. By the time the last game is finally played, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after all they’ve been through, the game they love can ever return to something simple and innocent.
Each sentence of this modern classic radiated as if it were crafted one word at a time to tell deeper truths to ponder, especially in these times of political odds and "sides." Like these:
Sometimes people have to be allowed to have something to live for in order to survive everything else.
Communities are like ice, not water. They don’t suddenly flow in new directions because you ask them to, they change centimeter by centimeter, like glaciers. Sometimes they don’t move at all.
Sometimes good people do terrible things in the belief that they’re trying to protect what they love.
Death does that to us, it’s like a phone call, you always remember exactly what you should have said the moment you hang up.
And this: “The complicated thing about good and bad people alike is that most of us can be both at the same time.
And that is why Us Against You is a modern classic.
Buy Us Against You:
- Read or watch Friday Night Lights, which is basically the football version of Backman's books. I LOVE the tv show. If you like Parenthood, you will like this too. The movie is highly rated as well.
- Read a non-fiction sportsbook, which, to me, are more akin to the darkness of Backman's books than fiction: The Boys in the Boat (super popular); What Made Maddie Run (a very important book about a college athlete's suicide; read my full review of What Made Maddy Run first).
- Read Backman's other most popular book, A Man Called Ove.
- Watch 30 for 30 on ESPN, which tells sports stories in compulsively watchable ways
- Read more of the best books about Winter.
- Watch Beartown on HBO Max! Below is the trailer: