Us Against You Book Review

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman {translated by Neil Smith} published in 2018.

81v3qyp3ibl

“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.”

us against you

I haven’t read many sequels to the books I’ve reviewed, so this is a first.

It’s kind of pointless to provide a summary of this book because it’s almost a direct continuation of Backman’s novel Beartown, so if you’re that curious, go read my review for “Beartown”. It focuses on the same characters with the same problems in the same town, which I liked and disliked at the same time. All of the characters are so interesting and unique that I could probably read another whole novel about them, it’s just trying to pass it as a completely different book/sequel is kind of a stretch. I usually regard sequels as the same set of characters facing a new challenge after a significant change of time, yet this book picks up almost instantly after the end of “Beartown”, as Kevin (the town’s star hockey player and Maya’s rapist) leaves town out of shame. The town is left to pick up the pieces, both as a whole community and each individual that is affected by the rape. It’s almost like Backman wrote an 800 page novel about these characters and this plot, but his publisher advised him to split it up into two different books so it didn’t intimidate readers. Again, the story itself is so interesting and thought-provoking that the continuing storyline is bearable, but I don’t think I’d like this in most sequels.

This review probably won’t be as long as my usual ones, mainly because I don’t want to repeat a lot of the stuff I said in my “Beartown” review since the two books are so similar. The character development is fabulous, both individually and as an entire community. There were many storylines going on at the same time, yet they tied together so nicely that I had a genuine interest in all of them and wasn’t confused. While the majority of the characters were from the original novel “Beartown”, there were also several new characters introduced such as a sly politician, “The Pack”, a local gang that everyone denies and knowledge of, and Leo Andersson, Maya’s younger brother.

I’ve heard some people say that they really don’t like Backman’s style of writing, and I couldn’t disagree more. I noticed he has a habit of using “power statements” (which is a term I made up just now). Either at the beginning or end of a few long paragraphs, he inserts a single sentence (occasionally two sentences, I guess if he’s feeling wild) that basically sums up what you are about to read/what you just read. Yet these are not normal sentences, hence my self-deemed title of “power statements”. Backman has this ability to create such compelling and commanding sentences that never fail to knock the wind out of me and sometimes physically causes me to sit back in my chair and just absorb what just hit me. It’s somehow very matter-of-fact but also metaphorically at the same time. I love writing like this, it makes me think a lot and really evokes a lot of strong emotions.

I don’t have much else to say about this that I didn’t already cover in my review for “Beartown”. This didn’t disappoint in the slightest, and even though it has the possibility to hold up on its own, if you find the desire to read “Us Against You”, try picking up “Beartown” first and enjoy the chaotically frustrating and hopeful community of Beartown.

p-trans 4

Advertisements

Beartown: Book Review

Beartown by Fredrik Backman published in 2017.

33413128.jpg

“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

This novel is the physical embodiment of this vine.

Beartown is the name of a small community that revolves around hockey. The junior boy’s upcoming hockey finals are not only a source of pride and joy but future economic stability. So the weight of an entire town of individuals is on the shoulders of a group of seventeen-year-old hockey playersno pressure though. The star of the junior team is Kevin Erdahl, a hockey phenomenon that is headed straight for the big leagues. This is all until he rapes fifteen-year-old Maya at a party. Oh yeah, to make things worse, Maya is the daughter of the general manager of the hockey club Kevin plays at. The reader watches this town fall apart in the name of the very sport that they claimed brought them together

A hallmark of a good book for me is a great opening line, and Beartown definitely provided this,

“Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger.

This is the story of how we got there”

Not only does this provide an element of anticipation and motivation to keep reading, but I love how in the last line Backman uses the word “we”, adding a sense of inclusion, almost like the readers are part of the story. My attention was immediately grabbed and made me excited to continue with this story.

I usually talk about characters, but there are so many people in this book that there really isn’t a main character. Normally this might be confusing and scattered, but in this case, it made the novel more unique since the town itself is taking the role of the protagonist. The citizens within Beartown are so intertwined in each other’s stories that it transcends one single character. The town itself has a heart of its own and therefore leads most of the plot.

I should probably also include a trigger warning for this book. For a book primarily about hockey, it covers some heavy topics such as homophobia and as I mentioned above, rape. Backman handles both topics gracefully though, so if you do have a history with either of these subjects, it still may be worth approaching this book with heightened caution.

For example, there’s an eloquently written line about rape trauma that caught my attention,

“For the perpetrator, rape lasts just a matter of minutes. For the victim, it never stops.”

As if the actual act of rape wasn’t enough, the aftermath was almost as horrifying. Not only do people turn against Maya, but they view Kevin as the victim. I could go on and on about the many ways this book made my blood boil, from people accusing her of lying, to blaming her for everything, and even people consoling his parents. It was the toxic masculinity and unwavering loyalty that had these town folks idolizing a teenage boy simply because he was good on the ice. In their eyes, he could do no wrong, which is extremely frustrating to witness. I found myself physically clenching my fists in angry, and even had to take a break from it so I wouldn’t get myself too worked up.

The reason I was getting so upset is because of how real this situation is. Backman perfectly captured the language people use when discussing rape. I was specifically reminded of the Brock Turner case, and many other situations like this that probably go without a trial. It’s a tragic look into the lives of many women (and men) who are the victims of rape.

Now I will say the story did seem to drag in some places. The actual climatic incident didn’t happen until almost 200 pages in, and even beyond that new characters and plot points were being introduced. The first one hundred pages or so was leading up to the semifinals (the lead up to the actual finals didn’t last nearly as long). So put plainly, some parts of this could benefit from a bit of mild editing, but overall I’m not complaining.

The ending was bittersweet, and that’s the best way I can put it without spoiling anything. I probably wouldn’t have written it any differently; Backman even used the story technique of writing about the characters life ten years in the future. This is a particularly interesting move since he has another novel published called Us Against You, which is the continued story of the Beartown community after the incident. The aspect I love most about this is that nobody has to pick up his sequel for this story to be finished, but it’s the choice of the reader if they want more. You won’t be losing anything from the original book if you choose not to read the second. I love the freedom Backman allows his readers, and because of that, I’ll definitely be picking up a copy of Us Against You.

p-trans 4