Quite possibly my favorite book of the year.
I can’t even tell you the how many times I’ve been recommended Backman’s books. And especially this one. Beartown is one of the books I knew I was going to love way before I read it. However, this book deals with rape, and I kept putting it off, because I was afraid of how it was going to be handled. I shouldn’t have worried.
I will preface the review by saying that this book does deal with rape. It’s something that’s very clear from the blurb and basically anyone who talks about this book has already said it. So I am not spoiling anything really, and this is a trigger warning.
I’ve already talked about how I love stories about small towns. They fascinate me. The atmosphere of small towns is something I adore and I find it fascinating how everyone always knows everyone else and all the residents are in some way connected. I think small town stories offer so much room for exploration of different kinds of relationships and interactions.
This was the case with Beartown. There’s an incredible cast of characters here and they are all very interconnected. It’s a story that offers you a ton of different people and manages to make them all very nuanced and fleshed out. I appreciated all of the characters in here, since they were all so very well done.
Backman’s characters are really flawed. None of them are perfect. Some are bad people, some are good, but ultimately, they are all human, and they are all very flawed. A lot of mistakes made here, a lot of irritating decisions, but it was all so well done. I think that it’s a true testament of writing skill when a writer manages to create subtle and nuanced characters who feel so very real.
Kira is the mother of a girl who goes through this horrible experience and she was possibly my favorite character, although I liked all of them. The reason I want to talk about her is because I think she is a spectacular female character. I have talked previously how I struggle with female characters written by men. Turns out I was just reading the wrong male writers. Kira is an incredibly well done character, and Backman managed to capture her so well. She struggles with her need for a career and the fact that she wants to spend time with her kids. She is a really capable and successful woman. She makes sacrifices for her family. She is fierce. I just loved her and I am so pleasantly surprised by that fact.
And the rest of the characters are spectacular as well. I really loved Benjamin, he was such a wonderfully written character, and probably my second favorite.
I loved how hockey was handled in this. I loved all the talk about it, the sense of comradery and community. The team spirit and the coach-players dynamic was so well done. I am not a huge sports fan, but I loved every bit of that aspect of the book. Hell, I might even start watching hockey. It’s so persuasive and detailed and just, again, so well done.
As I’ve said previously, this book deals heavily with rape. It’s the catalyst for the whole story and the whole disintegration of the town. And it was handled so well.
The author discusses rape culture and victim blaming and does such a good job at talking about these issues.
And he manages so well to capture it all. The privilege, the slut shaming, the way we respond to this, by looking away, by ignoring, by turning it towards the victim (who must have done something wrong), the apologetic attitude we assume when the perpetrator is someone we know and admire. There’s so much stuff that’s talked about in here. Virtually every topic around rape is explored here and done justice and just handled masterfully.
But the main thing that Backman manages to do is express feelings so well. From guilt that everyone feels somehow (the parents, the best friend, the teammates), over anger that also everyone feels (the girl, the parents, the best friend) and to hopelessness that all of them end up with, it’s all just portrayed so honestly and laid bare. I LOVED IT.
Overall, I am in love with this book and everything it managed to do. Go read it, buy it for your friends, give it as a gift. It should be read widely.
Final verdict: 10 out of 5 stars
Let me know if you’ve read this, what were your thoughts, how did you feel? Tell me everything, I’d love to hear it! And pretty please, recommend me small town books.
Oh and a sidenote, I read this book as a part of Zuky @ BookBum‘s book club! This month’s topic was Happy Birthday and the prompt was to read a book that you were gifted, and I got this one from a friend, so I thought I’d finally read it. If you’re not following Zuky, what are you even doing? Go do it, and come join us at the book club!
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