March 25, 2019

Book Review: Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

 

Us Against You (Beartown #2)

by Fredrik Backman
translated by Neil Smith

Genres: Contemporary Fiction 
Publisher: Atria Books
Length: 448 pages
Published: June 5, 2018
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"After everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet another blow when they hear that their beloved local hockey team will soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in Hed, take in that fact. Amidst the mounting tension between the two rivals, a surprising newcomer is handpicked to be Beartown’s new hockey coach.

Soon a new team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.

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."

Quote:

“The complicated thing about good and bad people alike is that most of us can be both at the same time.”

The first installment in the series

Excerpt:

"Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did. We'll end up saying that violence came to Beartown this summer, but that will be a lie; the violence was already here. Because sometimes hating one another is so easy that it seems incomprehensible that we ever do anything else....

People driving through say that Beartown doesn't live for anything but hockey, and some days they may be right. Sometimes people have to be allowed to have something to live for in order to survive everything else. We're not made, we're not greedy; say what you like about Beartown, but the people here are tough and hardworking. So we built a hockey team that was like us, that we could be proud of, because we weren't like you. When people from the big cities thought something seemed too hard, we just grinned and said, 'It's supposed to be hard.' Growing up here wasn't easy; that's why we did it, not you. We stood tall, no matter the weather, But then something happened, and we fell.

There’s a story about us before this one, and we’re always going to carry the guilt of that. Sometimes good people do terrible things in the belief that they’re trying to protect what they love. A boy, the star of the hockey team, raped a girl. And we lost our way. A community is the sum of its choices, and when two of our children said different things, we believed him. Because that was easier, because if the girl was lying our lives could carry on as usual. When we found out the truth, we fell apart, taking the town with us. It’s easy to say that we should have done everything differently, but perhaps you wouldn’t have acted differently, either. If you’d been afraid, if you’d been forced to pick a side, if you’d known what you had to sacrifice. Perhaps you wouldn’t be as brave as you think. Perhaps you’re not as different from us as you hope.

This is the story of what happened afterward, from one summer to the following winter. It is about Beartown and the neighboring town of Hed, and how the rivalry between two hockey teams can grow into a mad struggle for money and power and survival. It is a story about hockey rinks and all the hearts that beat around them, about people and sports and how they sometimes take turns carrying each other. About us, people who dream and fight. Some of us will fall in love, others will be crushed; we’ll have good days and some very bad days. This town will rejoice, but it will also start to burn. There’s going to be a terrible bang."

My Book Review:

In the series' first installment, Beartown, readers meet the men and women that make up the die-hard hockey community of a small town struggling for its identity. Extremely powerful but also breathtakingly painful to read, it is the story of what happens when the hockey team's star player rapes the coach's daughter, and what happens when the community isn't willing to hear the truth. Both Beartown and its sequel, Us Against You, are very difficult to read: the language, sex, and violence make it hard to digest, but also very truthful to the violence in the world around us. Be advised these books are not for all readers--I absolutely love Fredrick Backman and at this point I'm either close to or have finished reading everything he's published thus far, but I'd be wary of recommending these  books to someone without first considering the impact of the triggers within them.

When starting Us Against You, I admittedly struggled with some repetition from Beartown during the first third. Having not read it very long ago, it was still freshly burned into my mind, but it's also part of Backman's narrative style to write cyclically, repeating the past as it evolves throughout the present.

After I got past the first-third of the novel, I was hooked. Backman has a true gift for characterization. I cared so much for Benji, Maya, Kira, Leo, Ana, Bobo, and Amat. Truly cared. My heart broke for each of them in individual ways. At the same time, though he wasn't exactly a villain in Beartown, I intensely despised Peter in this book for his inability to make one single, unselfish decision. I mean despised him. He was so frustrating. I wanted to shake him by the shoulders and yell at him. This is the gift of good writing--it made me care deeply and feel like this fictional failure of a father was in actuality a real person.

Like Beartown, Us Against You is filled with the violence and tension within Beartown and its rival Hed in a way that felt very honest with its depiction of raw hatred and trauma. Backman doesn’t shortchange his readers with trite, happy endings when the truth is far more weighty, complicated, and heartbreaking. To me, his themes are greatly reminiscent of John Steinbeck’s novels and he’s definitely my current favorite author-in-translation.

If you've never read Backman before and you're looking for a place to start, I'd recommend A Man Called Ove or My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry. I love this Beartown series, but do feel that some audiences need to consider the trigger warning before diving in.


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