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Beartown by Fredrick Backman book cover
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Beartown Book details

  • Date Published: April 25, 2017
  • Pages: 432
  • Audio: 13 hours 11 minutes
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Content Warnings: Sexual assault

Beartown Book Review

I live in a big state (California) where we have multiple sports teams, and as a result we don’t all collectively root for the same sports team. But my husband is from Wisconsin where everyone roots for the Green Bay Packers come football season, and the Milwaukee Brewers come baseball season, and Milwaukee Bucks when basketball starts (you get the idea). I remember being shocked when he told me that when the Packers lose, everyone is depressed at work come Monday morning, and no one talks to each other.

Now take that same kind of energy and put that pressure on the local junior ice hockey team and the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys, and you have the fictional town of Beartown where this story takes place.

While sports can be a very positive force for individuals and communities, they can also reach a level where they become all-important and as a result, very toxic.

I think New York Times bestselling author Fredrik Backman does a great job of exploring all of those complexities by way of this small town where ice hockey is this community’s entire world.

The book focuses on the young men and hockey players who make up the junior ice hockey team in Beartown. star player, Kevin, whose arrogance leads him to commit an act of violence against a young girl at a party after a big win. The young woman, Maya, is a high school student who also happens to be the daughter of the general manager of the hockey club; he is also a former NHL player. Much of the book focuses on the aftermath of this violent act, and the the impact it has on the entire town.

However, there are also several interesting storylines about other players and townspeople and how all of their stories are related.

Beartown explores a wide breadth of topics including but not limited to friendship, love, betrayal, determination, loyalty, justice, and survival. I think it also explores the dangers of someone, in this case a teenager, who becomes so good at something, he thinks he can get away with anything.

This profound novel is part coming-of-age novel and part study of moral failure. I think it also shows what happens when youth sports are elevated to a place where they should never be. 

If you like books with a strong sense of place, I think you definitely get that with this book where this small community takes on a life of its own.

While this book definitely does not shy away from heavy topics, there are also some heroes that you will find yourself rooting for.

This is my second Backman book (the other one is A Man Called Ove), and the one thing I’ll say for both books is that they are very thought provoking. For this reason, Beartown would make a great book club pick. That being said, please note the trigger warnings.

Publisher’s Description

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever-encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

What I Liked . . .

The Depth and the Breadth. One of the things that impressed me about this book is the broad range of topics it managed to cover in one book.

The Characters. Despite having a large cast of characters, I thought they were all very well developed.

What I Didn’t Like . . .

Overextended: This book addresses a lot of heavy issues. While I like a book with several layers, I also wonder if it was trying to do too much. Although, I also recognize that’s also like criticizing someone for being an overachiever.

The Cast of Characters

Keeping track of all of the characters in this book can get a bit overwhelming, which is why I put together this handy list of the main characters for you:

  • Peter Andersson – The general manager of the Beartown hockey team, a former NHL player, husband to Kira, and father to Maya and Leo.
  • Kira Andersson – Peter’s wife and a lawyer. Mother of Maya and Leo.
  • Maya Andersson – Peter and Kira’s teenage daughter.
  • Leo Andersson – Maya’s 12-year-old brother.
  • Kevin Erdahl – The star hockey player.
  • Benji – Kevin’s best friend and teammate.
  • Amat – A young hockey player in Beartown, often underestimated but with immense talent and passion for the game.
  • Fatima – Amat’s mother and the cleaner at the hockey rink.
  • Bobo – A teammate of Kevin, Benji, and Amat, known for his physical aggression on the ice. Son of Hog and Ann-Katrin.
  • Ana – Maya’s best friend.
  • David – The coach of the Beartown hockey team
  • Sune – The 70-year-old coach of Beartown’s professional team; a mentor and father figure to many players.
  • Ramona – A bar owner in Beartown, known for her no-nonsense attitude.
  • Zacharias – Amat’s best friend, who is from the underprivileged Hollow of Beartown.
  • William Lyt – A member of the hockey team and loyal friend of Kevin.
  • The Pack – A group of influential men in Beartown who exert their power and influence in the town.
  • Mr. Erdahl – Kevin’s demanding father and a big financial supporter of the local hockey club.
  • Mrs. Erdahl – Kevin’s mother and powerful business woman.
  • Tails – The owner of a supermarket chain. Childhood friend of Peter.
  • Club President – The nameless president of the Beartown hockey club.

Book Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think the title fits the book? What title would you give this book?
  2. What do you think is the main theme of this book?
  3. How does the setting of Beartown contribute to the overall themes and conflicts in the story?
  4. How does the sport of hockey shape the identity of the people of Beartown? What does it symbolize beyond just a game?
  5. Discuss the character development of Maya throughout the book. How does her journey impact the other characters and the town as a whole?
  6. One of the central themes in Beartown is the issue of consent and the importance of believing survivors. How does the book handle this sensitive topic? What messages do you think Mr. Backman is trying to convey?
  7. Explore the theme of loyalty in Beartown. How do the characters’ loyalties shift and evolve throughout the story? Discuss how you see loyalty having both positive and negative consequences.
  8. Discuss the role of sports in Beartown. How does the hockey team’s success or failure affect the community and the individuals within it?
  9. Analyze the relationship between Peter and Kira, Maya’s parents. How does their marriage change over the course of the book, and how does it impact their daughter?
  10. Discuss the concept of “us versus them” in this small hockey town. How does this mentality shape the actions and decisions of the characters?
  11. Explore the theme of power and its abuse in Beartown. How do the characters wield power, and what are the consequences of their actions?
  12. How do ambition and the pressure to succeed drive the characters’ actions throughout the story? What are the repercussions?
  13. The characters in Beartown are complex and face various moral dilemmas. Which character did you find the most compelling, and why? Did any of the characters’ choices surprise you?
  14. Consider the role of “the pack” mentality in the story. How does the group mentality influence individual behavior, both positively and negatively?
  15. Analyze the character of Amat and his journey from being an outsider to finding his place in Beartown. How does his story reflect the larger themes of the book?
  16. Reflect on the ending of Beartown. Did it satisfy you? Why or why not?
  17. Out of five stars, how do you rate this book?
Beartown book club discussion guide download

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The Beartown Series

Beartown is the first book in a trilogy. Here are all of the books in the series in order:

Other popular Fredrick Backman novels:

Have you read this book? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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