Beartown – Review

“It’s only so important that a seventeen-year-old in a private garden has been standing here since he got frostbite on his cheeks one night ten years ago, firing puck and puck with the weight of an entire community on his shoulders.”

Before I start, to say that there are trigger warnings for this book is a huge understatement. The entire book is a giant trigger warning. It isn’t the graphic nature of the sexual assault, it isn’t the details of violence, or abuse that makes the warning necessary. This is a book that is a serious examination of rape culture as a whole. It is about misogyny, homophobia, and the ugly side of how these cultures are created and maintained. It is excruciating, uncomfortable, sick, disheartening. Beartown shows in unflinching detail how an entire town can become complicit. How blame begins before the violent act is even committed.

Beartown is a book about a community. A small town, deep in a forest, struggling to survive. And their identity is based entirely on hockey. But without the population or the winning titles, that identity is at risk of dying completely.

Except they finally have a chance. A team that can win. A team that can bring them everything they’ve needed. Everything they’ve wanted.

These boys have been told to win. They’ve been told they can do whatever they want. Have whatever they want. And one night, under all the pressure, under all the burden, and hope, and promise, one boy, one girl, and one violent act will expose the true heart of the town.

“A simple truth, repeated as often as it is ignored, is that if you tell a child it can do absolutely anything, or that it can’t do anything at all, you will in all likelihood be proven right.”

It’s difficult to write a review for a book when it produces such a visceral reaction. I’m disgusted, and enraged, and heartbroken. In fact, it’s been weeks since we finished this book and I still have a hard time finding the right reaction. That the author can produce such real reactions, such vivid emotions, tells of the talent he has in story telling. Not all stories can be good. Not all stories can make reality easier to face. That doesn’t make them bad stories. It makes them the most important ones.

This was a tough book for me to read. Not because the writing wasn’t beautiful, or the characters weren’t believable. More because this book is an agonizing glimpse into the very real culture we live in today. Take away the hockey, and we still live in a world where women are questioned more when they get raped than the men accused of raping them. We still live in a world where victims have to explain what they were wearing, how they were acting, what they were doing. We still live in a world where power and money means more than truth and justice.

“It doesn’t take long to persuade each other to stop seeing a person as a person. And when enough people are quiet for long enough, a handful of voices can give the impression that everyone is screaming.”

Backman has managed to take a small town focused on hockey and make it resonate with a worldwide audience. We can all find people to relate to, or similar situations that we’ve observed or encountered. This glimpse into one town somehow highlights problems that face us all on a larger scale. The choices we make daily on how to treat people, how we see ourselves, how we see the world around us. Beartown is heartbreakingly relevant. It exposes many mentalities and realities that lurk in every corner of society.

This was my first book by Backman, and while the writing is stunning, this is a book I wasn’t emotionally prepared for. I tend to prefer more redeeming story lines, and while I don’t always need a happy ending, this one felt too mired in reality for me to say I enjoyed it. I felt like I was watching a true story unfolding as opposed to a story. The reality of the plot was too vivid for me. Perhaps if the world felt more optimistic as a whole I would have felt differently, but it made me feel bleak, angry, and helpless.

Again, I do think that being able to provoke such strong emotions is only an indication of the strength of the book. For readers who enjoy strong literary fiction with deep emotional reactions, I think they will devour this book entirely and completely. While I haven’t read his other books, I do know that this is not whimsical or light like his other novels. Readers should be prepared for a gut-wrenching journey.

Beartown ends by giving us a bit of a glimpse into the future of that small town, setting the characters up for the next book. It sounds as emotional and vivid as the first. I may pick it up after I’ve had some time to process Beartown, but as of today, I’m undecided.

I read Beartown as our June book choice for our Instagram book club. Follow me @jenabrownwrites @jennsbookvibes @amberk1120 @hollyslittlebookreviews and #awesomeAFbuddyreads to join our chat! This month we’re reading All The Ugly And Beautiful Things. Hope to see you there!!!

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