#Beartown and #UsAgainstYou: Don’t be fooled. They’re not about hockey.

backman

Beartown (Book #1)
Us Against You (Book #2)
By Fredrik Backman
Translated By: Neil Smith
My Rating: Four out of Five Stars
Best for: Adults

Spoiler alert.

Beartown and Us Against You are not about hockey.

It’s about teenagers growing up the hard way.
It’s about their parents who are trying their best but still feel inadequate.
It’s about how cruel people can be.
It’s about how resilient we are.

I’ve got to be honest. I didn’t expect what I got with Beartown and Us Against You. I was expecting a story about a small-town hockey team and the distractions that happen on their way to beating their Goliath.

Actually…that is exactly what this story is about. It’s just their Goliaths are different than what I thought they would be.

Beartown and Us Against You are not about hockey.

Both books are tremendously well written. Like, out-of-my-mind good. I don’t know whether to congratulate the author or the translator. Both, I guess. There are many characters with an equal number of points of view, and it adds to the story instead of bogs it down like you might expect with a less talented author. They’re endlessly quotable, too. Try these on:

“Being a parent makes you feel like a blanket that’s always too small. Not matter how hard you try to cover everyone, there’s always someone who’s freezing.” (Beartown)

“What does it take to be a good parent? Not much. Just everything. Absolutely everything.” (Us Against You)

So, ya. Well written is an understatement. These are up there with Markus Zusak, for sure.

[Heads up, I’m going spoil the middle of Beartown. Not the end of either book. Just the middle of Beartown. I’m going to reveal two key plot elements that blindsided me and impacted my feelings about the story. These plot elements are also important for anyone interested in the content advisary of Beartown and Us Against You. Stop here if want to stay surprised. You have been warned.]

These are both powerful stories, but they are also both so, so hard to read. Getting through Beartown nearly broke this dad-of-daughters heart in two.

No, that’s wrong. It did break my heart.

They are not about hockey.

Beartown and Us Against You are about the violent rape of a 15-year-old girl by the star of the hockey team and the terrible reaction the victim gets from the town as it becomes a her-word-vs-his-word drama. It. Is. Very. Real. If you are triggered by rape and it’s victim impact, you might want to avoid this one. It pulls no punches, it’s real, and it sucks.

But that’s not all.

Beartown and Us Against You are also about a closeted gay teen who plays on the hockey team and what happens when he is outed. Authentic. Raw. Hard. Heart breaking. It pulls no punches, it’s real, and it sucks.

As a parent my heart ached for the victims, and I marveled at their resilience. Their story became a white-knuckled reading experience. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough as I was pulled toward the end.

The sub plots are as rich as the main plots. A mom and a dad who sacrifice their own happiness for their children. Children who are willing to fight for what they want. Small town politics. The power of friendship. How you feel when you lose a child. Alcoholism and it’s impact on family. Child abuse. If it’s a sad thing that can happen to a family, it’s represented in these two books.

These are AMAZINGLY well-written books with a message of resilience, but they still left me feeling sad and weighed down by the hard parts. If I could, I would have made the resolutions fly as high as the blows brought low. But they didn’t, and so I left them feeling heavy.

Content advisary: Both books have strong language. Beartown has an instance of strong profanity every 4 pages. Us Against You, every 11 pages. There is violence–including a strong rape scene, drug use, and sexual content, all involving teens. Aware adults or books to be buddy-read with your high schoolers only.

Happy Reading!

Thank you to my good friend AW who knows how to give the best gifts.

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