Monday, March 12, 2018
Book Review: "Us Against You" by Fredrick Backman
Frederick Backman's Beartown (see my review) was probably the best or second-best book I read last year. This story of a Swedish town that is literally obsessed with hockey, and which faces a crisis that will practically tear the town apart, surprised, delighted, and devastated me, all over the course of a few short hours as I plowed through it very late one night.
Given how I felt about that book, I approached the sequel, Us Against You, with a bit of trepidation. Could Backman achieve magic in Beartown again? Were there new stories to tell, and would they affect me with the same level of emotion and, frankly, devotion, that the first book did? Once again, I plowed through the 450-page book within a few hours, and stayed up very late at night to finish it. Now I can answer my questions unequivocally: yes, yes, and oh my god, yes.
In fact, I'll leave it to Rob Lowe to sum up my feelings.
Beartown is struggling to right itself after the crisis which nearly destroyed the town, but so many lives will never be the same. The town is dealt another blow when it learns that their beloved hockey club will be liquidated, a decision of local politicians, and all of the funding will go to the hockey club of their rival town, Hed, where many of the former Beartown players have gone. This decision upends those for whom hockey was a job, a dream, an escape, a scapegoat, and a tradition.
But one crafty person isn't willing to let Beartown hockey dieit's all part of a larger master plan for power. A most unusual coach is hired, and they begin building a new team with an unlikely squad of playersBenji, the lone wolf battling between self-destruction and redemption; Amat, smaller than the other players but perhaps more talented than anyone; Bobo, Amat's best friend, who can't skate well but can't imagine a life without hockey; and Vidar, an exceptionally talented goalie with an exceptionally short (and dangerous) fuse.
As Beartown, and its residents, try to recover, marriages and long-time friendships will be severely tested, loyalties will be questioned, split-second decisions will damage and endanger lives, and hearts will break. Violence becomes a more-present part of their everyday lives as the rivalry between Beartown and Hed intensifies, and the big game draws near. Everyone will face moments which could utterly destroy them, but amidst all of the darkness, there are glimpses of hope.
"People will say that violence came to Beartown this summer, but that won't be true, because it was already here. Because people are always dependent upon other people, and we can't ever really forgive each other for that."
This book absolutely blew me away. I wasn't sure if Backman had it in him a second time, but he has written a sequel that is just as good as its predecessor, which was exceptional. I love these characters so muchthe ones you root for and the ones you root against. Reading this book was like getting to visit old friendsyou revel in every minute because you know you'll be sad when your time together is over. That was definitely the case here.
You really should read Beartown first, both because it provides a great framework on which this book is built, and because it is fantastic on its own. Even though these books are about a hockey-obsessed town, they are about so much more than that. That's where Backman keeps surprising you.
God, I hope there's a third book. I'm ready for another late-night read, where I'm laughing and sobbing and feeling sentimental all over again. Who can ask for anything more?
NetGalley and Atria Books provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!