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Instant New York Times Bestseller! The author of A Man Called Ove returns with “a lyrical look at how a community heals, how families recover, and how individuals grow” (The Washington Post).
“Fans of Backman will not be disappointed. His work continues to amaze and captivate, enlighten and thrill.” —Shelf Awareness
A small community tucked deep in the forest, Beartown is home to tough, hardworking people who don’t expect life to be easy or fair. No matter how difficult times get, they’ve always been able to take pride in their local ice hockey team. So it’s a cruel blow when they hear that their town’s ice hockey club might 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 the neighboring town of Hed, take in that fact. But the arrival of a newcomer gives Beartown hockey a chance at a comeback.
Soon a team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; always dutiful and eager-to-please Bobo; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a huge challenge, especially as the town’s enmity with Hed grows more and more acute as the big game approaches.
By the time the last goal is scored, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after everything, the game they love can ever return to something as simple and innocent as a field of ice, two nets, and two teams. Us against you.
Here is a declaration of love for all the big and small, bright and dark stories that give form and color to our communities. With immense compassion and insight, Fredrik Backman reveals how loyalty, friendship, and kindness can carry a town through its most challenging days.
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove (soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, as well as two novellas, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and The Deal of a Lifetime. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children.
Read an Excerpt
Us Against You
There Are Three Types of People
The highest point in Beartown is a hill to the south of the last buildings in town. From there you can see all the way from the big villas on the Heights, past the factory and the ice rink and the smaller row houses near the center, right over to the blocks of rental apartments in the Hollow. Two girls are standing on the hill looking out across their town. Maya and Ana. They’ll soon be sixteen, and it’s hard to say if they became friends in spite of their differences or because of them. One of them likes musical instruments; the other likes guns. Their mutual loathing of each other’s taste in music is almost as recurrent a topic of argument as their ten-year-long fight about pets. Last winter they got thrown out of a history class at school because Maya muttered, “You know who was a dog person, Ana? Hitler!” whereupon Ana retorted, “You know who was a cat person, then? Josef Mengele!”
They squabble constantly and love each other unquestioningly, and ever since they were little they have had days when they’ve felt it was just the two of them against the whole world. Ever since what happened to Maya earlier in the spring, every day has felt like that.
It’s the very start of June. For three-quarters of the year this place is encapsulated in winter, but now, for a few enchanted weeks, it’s summer. The forest around them is getting drunk on sunlight, the trees sway happily beside the lakes, but the girls’ eyes are restless. This time of year used to be a time of endless adventure for them; they would spend all day out in nature and come home late in the evening with torn clothes and dirty faces, childhood in their eyes. That’s all gone. They’re adults now. For some girls that isn’t something you choose, it’s something that gets forced upon you.
Bang. Bang. Bang-bang-bang.
A mother is standing outside a house. She’s packing her child’s things into a car. How many times does that happen while they’re growing up? How many toys do you pick up from the floor, how many stuffed animals do you have to form search parties for at bedtime, how many mittens do you give up on at preschool? How many times do you think that if nature really does want people to reproduce, then perhaps evolution should have let all parents grow extra sets of arms so they can reach under all the wretched sofas and fridges? How many hours do we spend waiting in hallways for our kids? How many gray hairs do they give us? How many lifetimes do we devote to their single one? What does it take to be a good parent? Not much. Just everything. Absolutely everything.
Up on the hill Ana turns to her best friend and asks, “Do you remember when we were little? When you always wanted to pretend that we had kids?”
Maya nods without taking her eyes from the town.
“Do you still want kids?” Ana asks.
Maya’s mouth barely opens when she replies. “Don’t know. Do you?”
Ana shrugs her shoulders slightly, halfway between anger and sorrow. “Maybe when I’m old.”
“Dunno. Thirty, maybe.”
Maya is silent for a long time, then asks, “Do you want boys or girls?”
Ana replies as if she’s spent her whole life thinking about this, “Boys.”
“Because the world is kind of shitty toward them sometimes. But it treats us like that nearly all the time.”
The mother closes the trunk, holding back tears because she knows that if she lets out so much as a single one, they will never stop. No matter how old they get, we never want to cry in front of our children. We’d do anything for them; they never know because they don’t understand the immensity of something that is unconditional. A parent’s love is unbearable, reckless, irresponsible. They’re so small when they sleep in their beds and we sit beside them, shattered to pieces inside. It’s a lifetime of shortcomings, and, feeling guilty, we stick happy pictures up everywhere, but we never show the gaps in the photograph album, where everything that hurts is hidden away. The silent tears in darkened rooms. We lie awake, terrified of all the things that can happen to them, everything they might be subjected to, all the situations in which they could end up victims.
The mother goes around the car and opens the door. She’s not much different from any other mother. She loves, she gets frightened, falls apart, is filled with shame, isn’t enough. She sat awake beside her son’s bed when he was three years old, watching him sleep and fearing all the terrible things that could happen to him, just like every parent does. It never occurred to her that she might need to fear the exact opposite.
It’s dawn, the town is asleep; the main road out of Beartown is empty, but the girls’ eyes are still fixed on it from up on the hilltop. They wait patiently.
Maya no longer dreams about the rape. About Kevin’s hand over her mouth, the weight of his body stifling her screams, his room with all the hockey trophies on the shelves, the floor the button of her blouse bounced across. She just dreams about the running track behind the Heights now; she can see it from up here. When Kevin was running on his own and she stepped out of the darkness with a shotgun. Held it to his head as he shook and sobbed and begged for mercy. In her dreams she kills him, every night.
How many times does a mother make her child giggle? How many times does the child make her laugh out loud? Kids turn us inside out the first time we realize that they’re doing it intentionally, when we discover that they have a sense of humor. When they make jokes, learn to manipulate our feelings. If they love us, they learn to lie shortly after that, to spare our feelings, pretending to be happy. They’re quick to learn what we like. We might tell ourselves that we know them, but they have their own photograph albums, and they grow up in the gaps.
How many times has the mother stood beside the car outside the house, checked the time, and impatiently called her son’s name? She doesn’t have to do that today. He’s been sitting silently in the passenger seat for several hours while she packed his things. His once well- toned body is thin after weeks in which she’s struggled to get food into him. His eyes stare blankly through the windshield.
How much can a mother forgive her son for? How can she possibly know that in advance? No parent imagines that her little boy is going to grow up and commit a crime. She doesn’t know what nightmares he dreams now, but he shouts when he wakes up from them. Ever since that morning she found him on the running track, motionless with cold, stiff with fear. He had wet himself, and his desperate tears had frozen on his cheeks.
He raped a girl, and no one could ever prove it. There will always be people who say that means he got away with it, that his family escaped punishment. They’re right, of course. But it will never feel like that for his mother.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
When the car begins to move along the road, Maya stands on the hill and knows that Kevin will never come back here. That she has broken him. There will always be people who say that means she won.
But it will never feel like that to her.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.
The brake lights go on for a moment; the mother casts one last glance in the rearview mirror, at the house that was a home and the gluey scraps on the mailbox where the name “Erdahl” has been torn off, letter by letter. Kevin’s father is packing the other car alone. He stood beside the mother on the track, saw their son lying there with tears on his sweater and urine on his trousers. Their lives had shattered long before then, but that was when she first saw the shards. The father refused to help her as she half carried, half dragged the boy through the snow. That was two months ago. Kevin hasn’t left the house since then, and his parents have barely said a word to each other. Men define themselves in more distinctive ways than women, life has taught her that, and her husband and son have always defined themselves with one single word: winners. As long as she can remember, the father has drummed the same message into the boy: “There are three types of people: winners, losers, and the ones who watch.”
And now? If they’re not winners, what are they? The mother takes her foot off the brake, switches the radio off, drives down the road, and turns the corner. Her son sits beside her. The father gets into the other car, drives alone in the opposite direction. The divorce papers are in the mail, along with the letter to the school saying that the father has moved to another town and the mother and son have gone abroad. The mother’s phone number is at the bottom in case anyone at the school has any questions, but no one’s going to call. This town is going do everything it can to forget that the Erdahl family was ever a part of it.
After four hours of silence in the car, when they’re so far from Beartown that they can’t see any forest, Kevin whispers to his mother, “Do you think it’s possible to become a different person?”
She shakes her head, biting her bottom lip, and blinks so hard she can’t see the road in front of her. “No. But it’s possible to become a better person.” Then he holds out a trembling hand. She holds it as if he were three years old, as if he were dangling over the edge of a cliff. She whispers, “I can’t forgive you, Kevin. But I’ll never abandon you.”
That’s the sound of this town, everywhere. Perhaps you understand that only if you live here.
On the hilltop stand two girls, watching the car disappear. They’ll soon be sixteen. One of them is holding a guitar, the other a rifle.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Us Against You includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
A small community tucked deep in the forest, Beartown is home to tough, hardworking people who don’t expect life to be easy or fair. No matter how difficult times get, its residents have always been able to take pride in their local ice hockey team. So it’s a cruel blow when they hear that Beartown ice hockey might 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 the neighboring town of Hed, take in that fact. As the tension mounts between the two adversaries, a newcomer arrives, a surprising new coach who gives Beartown hockey a chance at a comeback.
As the big game approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt intensifies. By the time the last goal is scored the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after everything, the game they love can ever return to something as simple as a field of ice, two nets, and two teams. Us against you.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Backman describes the struggle between Beartown and Hed as one between the Bear and the Bull. What does this metaphor represent besides two fearsome animals fighting each other? What do these symbols say about the character of each town?
2. Early in the book, Maya and Ana retreat to a special place far from the rest of Beartown. Read Maya’s song, “The Island” on pp. 59–60. What do you think this little piece of land means to both of them?
3. Kira makes sacrifices so that Peter can be manager of Beartown hockey. Does Peter make sacrifices for his family, too? Discuss the way their relationship changes over the course of the book.
4. Peter tells Ann-Katrin: “I’m afraid the club might demand more from your sons than it can give back to them.” (page 155). Bobo, Benji, and Amat must take their place in the world of men when they join the A-team. How does this change force them to grow up? In what ways does it expose their immaturities? What are the different ways each boy tries to fit in with and be accepted by the older players? In the end, are Peter’s fears of what the club will demand of the players justified?
5. People from Hed burn a Beartown Jersey in their town square. This event doesn’t hurt anyone physically, but would you still consider it an act of violence? How does this small symbolic act become amplified and have the power to do so much relational damage?
6. What special challenges do Maya and Ana face as they near adulthood? Do you think two such different girls will be able to maintain their friendship as they head down separate paths?
7. “When we describe how the violence between these two towns started, most of us will no longer remember what came first” (page 46). What do you think the tipping point was? What do you think the novel says about human beings’ innate tendency toward violence?
8. A theme in Us Against You is tribalism versus community. Both dynamics are grounded in a sense of loyalty formed around a shared identity, but what makes them different? How can a strong community become insular and intolerant?
9. Two outsiders come to town, Elisabeth Zackell and Richard Theo. How does each person understand the culture in Beartown, and how do they use that understanding to their individual advantage?
10. “People’s reactions to leadership are always the same: if your decisions benefit me, you’re fair, and if the same decision harms me, you’re a tyrant.” (page 197). Are there any characters in Beartown who act against their own self-interest? What do you think are their reasons for doing so?
11. When Ana breaks Benji’s trust and reveals his secret, do you understand her action? Is what she does to Benji made more forgivable because of the circumstances?
12. Retaliation is a constant theme throughout the book. Are there any characters who try to break this cycle of violence? What do you think it takes for this pattern to be broken?
13. Richard Theo says to Peter: “They rule with the help of violence. A democracy can’t allow that. Anyone who becomes powerful because they’ve physically fought their way to the top needs to be opposed.” (page 271) Do you agree with Theo? Does Theo rule with the help of violence?
14. Sports has the power to divide and the power to unite. On balance, do you think Beartown would be better off with or without its hockey club?
15. “We will say ‘things like this are no one’s fault,’ but of course they are. Deep down we will know the truth. It’s plenty of people’s fault. Ours.” (page 293) Do you agree with this statement, or are their forces outside of the Beartown citizens’ control that are, in part, responsible for the violence?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Interview fanatical fans of any sport. Ask them why they feel such a strong connection to their team. See if you can match their motivations to a character in Us Against You.
2. Tom Hanks will be starring as the title character in in a film adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s novel A Man Called Ove. There are so many great characters in Beartown; who would you cast to play them in a movie?
3. Research a local or popular sports rivalry (e.g. the New York Yankees and Boston Red Socks; Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics; Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears; Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks). How are their rivalries like the rivalry between Hed and Beartown? Are there off-the-field reasons that this rivalry is such an important one?
4. Pick a theme or scene from the book to draw inspiration from and write eight–sixteen lines of lyrics for a song that captures the emotions and tone of the scene. Look to Maya’s songs in the book for examples.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.5★s Us Against You is the second novel in the Beartown series by Swedish blogger, columnist and author, Fredrik Backman. It is translated from Swedish by Neil Smith. Midsummer in Beartown and there’s no ice hockey to be played, but the events of spring, “the scandal” as some referred to it, still looms large in the town’s collective consciousness. The (unpunished) perpetrator may have left town, but the victim still bears the blame. When the Regional Councillors decide that the Beartown Bears Ice Hockey Club will be liquidated, a hearty cheer goes up from their rivals, the Hed Hockey team, while the blame is placed firmly on the shoulders of the team’s manager, Peter Andersson and his daughter, Maya. One councillor, however, has plans of his own: a stranger arrives in Beartown on a mission from this politician. His plan brings hope, but is he to be trusted? In this sequel, all the characters from The Scandal (Beartown #1) feature, but with their backstories expanded, their futures speculated upon and their present reactions to events explored. “Inside every large story there are always plenty of small ones.” Some new and interesting characters also appear. As with the first book, there is a lot of Ice Hockey in this story, but it could actually be centred around any team sport in a remote town to the same effect. There is quite a long and slow build-up to the climax, which may be frustrating for some readers, but patience is rewarded. Backman presents moral and ethical dilemmas in a realistic fashion, there are some lump-in-the-throat moments and many wise words: “Men are busy, but boys don’t stop growing. Sons want their fathers’ attention until the precise moment when fathers want their sons’.” Moving and thought-provoking.
Best Book of 2018. I wish it never ended. Amazing writing. Amazing story. It's the sequel to Beartown, so if you've not yet read Beartown, do so first. I envy you -- you now have two great books to read in a row. I hope they turn this into a TV series; it'll be as great as Friday Night Lights was.
This book is a great follow up to Beartown. So many emotions and so many twists and turns. Like all of Mr. Backman's books I couldn't put it down.
I want to thank, Netgalley & the publisher for an eARC of this book. It has in no way, influenced my opinions, just saying! I was very excited to get a copy of this! I LOVE Backman and Beartown is my second favorite book by him. I was a little nervous because the book ended perfectly and this is a continuation. I know a lot of people haven’t been sure about Beartown because it’s about hockey. I can assure you, it’s about so much more than hockey. If you haven’t read Beartown, it’s a must before cracking this one open, in my opinion. It takes place after the events in the previous book. You need this background to understand where the town and people are at, emotionally and mentally. Us Against You, is basically about the good vs. evil, love vs. hate and the decisions that follow. The choices that these characters make that ripple into the life of everyone around them. Backman, has an amazing way of storytelling. From the very beginning he tells you something is going to happen. Throughout the whole story, I was wondering, is this it? There are so many times, I thought I knew what was going to happen but wasn’t even close. He had me nervous and scared. I love that it’s not predictable! I swear, you will feel EVERY emotion possible with his books, this one included. I would laugh out loud and cry on various occasions. He makes you fall in love with every character and you can’t help feeling what they feel. I love them all. Benji, Amat, Bobo, The Andersson’s, Ramona, The Pack and even the very small supporting characters. Everyone’s story is important and they all interweave with each other. Bobo is one character that really bloomed in this book. His story just hit my heartstrings the most. Everyone is fighting to stand up for what they believe in. Will they let their differences slide when the community needs to come together? You will have to read and find out! This one starts off a bit slow, it took a while for me to get into the story. Once you get about 1/3 of the way into it, it really picks up. A lot of his books are that way. I always encourage those who stop to keep going, it’s so worth it. He talks about a lot of relevant issues today- sexuality, gender and politics. The conflict that ensues about each of these issues. He really makes you think. How would I act in this situation? Would I be different or would I follow the crowd? Overall, it’s a great book. I did prefer Beartown a little more. What I got from this book and I hope many others do is HOPE. Hope that good will outshine evil, Hope that people can forget their differences and come together, Hope that we can make the world better. Be good. Be kind.
Once again Backman has captured the full spectrum of human emotions experienced by both the victim and those who live them, woven into a gritty story.
Last year, Beartown became one of the best things I ever read. Which honestly, shocked me since I am not a sports-er. This year Backman does it again with Us Against You, a book about people, motives, relationships, brothers, enemies, love, survival...and oh yeah, hockey. I am fascinated by Backman's ability to take any character and show the spaces between the actions and the words, to make things a little less black and white. People are not good, or bad, they are people. They make choices and do things because of the million moments that came before this one. Each one of us is only a step or two from greatness or disaster. And love, love, love weaves through it all - through the grief, through the pride, through the pain. We are the bears. The bears of Beartown.
Is there a future for the small community of Beartown in northern Sweden after all that happened last season? Summer is almost over, but how should life go on without a hockey team? The best players have left and taken the coach with them. Peter Anderson, the ice hockey club’s GM, is left behind with a mess; when the club presents the new coach – a woman – this seems to be the last nail in his coffin. But Beartown is not a place where people give up, they all fight, for different goals, with different motives. And slowly a new team forms and life comes back to the community. Hockey is not all there, hockey is everything and for the sake of the game, you sometimes have to cut back your own interests. I have read several novels written by Frederik Backman, also the first of the Beartown series which I find absolutely necessary to understand this one, and I still do not know how he manages to drag you so completely into the novel and to make you want to cry several times. Even though in this instalment, there is not the big culminating point to which the plot inevitably heads like in the first one, you can feel the suspense throughout the whole novel. After what had happened before – the rape, the hatred, the taking sides – the characters now need to adjust their lives, somehow get back to a kind of normal which isn’t the normal they had known before. This is where the greatest strength of the author lies: he manages like hardly any other to portray the nuances in the feelings, contradicting emotions and strong convictions which cannot be explained since they have always been there and are true therefore. His characters walk on brittle ground, any second, it all could explode and the whole community could end in total chaos. They move carefully, but sometimes also like a bull in a china shop, but they are aware of each other and especially of the other’s needs. What is so special about Beartown is the strength of the people when they are needed. They all have a good heart, the fight hard, but they also know that as humans they have to take care of each other and that life is not always fair but that they can balance the unfairness with their actions. No, life is never easy in Beartown, many suffer a lot and you wouldn’t want to change places with them. Yet, on the other hand, what more could you hope for than a place like this small town and its inhabitants? Again, it is a novel about hockey. But also about love and hate. Life and death. Violence and peace. Just about everything that matters. And above, wonderfully written so that you can hardly put it away once you’ve started reading.
Fredrick Backman in addition to being an amazing writer, is someone who has a gift for observing people and creating characters that readers see themselves in. I can relate to every single one of his characters--whether it's that they remind me of what it was like to be young or parents in whom I see myself now. There is such hope, such resilience, such faith in these characters. Backman has a way of showing us ourselves and reminding us that we share this experience and as bruised and raw and emotional and upset we are, it's ok, because we are ultimately all in this thing called life together. Us Against You is a continuation of Beartown. We get to catch up with Bobo, Kevin, Amat, Ana, Benji, Maya and Ana after Beartown. This working class town is still in trouble, but they have a new coach, many of their best hockey players have transferred to Hed and there is a new politician in town who has an agenda that is not necessarily in Beartown's best interest. I kept thinking something bad was going to happen and that was what kept me reading, I wanted to find out what it was. Although I really liked this book, I didn't love it as much as I loved Beartown, I felt like some of the new characters were not as well developed and I found the whole politics and sports thing to not be an escape from life, but a reminder of some of the more annoying aspects of reality.
With myriad themes running throughout this novel, Backman does what very few authors can claim to do. He makes you CARE about each and every character (even the hooligans and the corrupt politicians). He makes wise and astute observations about parenting, friendship, responsibility, loss, loyalty, sacrifice, revenge, power, bureaucracy, leadership, teamwork, violence, respect, courage, consequences, and the powerful feeling of ‘belonging’. Not bad for one novel. With concise sentences Backman turns just a few words into moving and impactful observations. This is a novel peopled by wonderful characters. I was reluctant to finish the book as it would mean I would have to leave Beartown… I really cannot recommend “Us against you” highly enough.
very very good story. hard to put down. could not predict where the story was going to go . very timely and current recommend
The backdrop of the story is hockey, but there is so much more to it than that. This is the second book in the Beartown series and it is best that you read the first one as everything that happens in this book is a result of the actions taken in the first one. Beartown is a small town in the forest. The factory is laying people off, many are unemployed, there are drugs, lots of alcoholics and hockey. Many of the players from Beartown hockey, switched to the team in Hed, Beartown's hated rivals, after the rape that occurred in the last book. In the sequel to Beartown, Fredrik Backman explores what happens as a consequence of this unspeakable act, how everyone involved tries to pick up the pieces of their lives: the boy, the girl, her family and the town. In this book, a sneaky, local politician, Richard Theo, has dreams of bigger and better things for his political career. He starts calling in favours to rebuild the team and buy the factory to bring back jobs. He brings in a female coach, spreads rumors to manipulate people, gets everyone upset with everyone else. The team pulls together, but will this save the town. I was emotionally moved while reading this story. There were family dramas, bullying, small town politics, gangs, homosexuality and its effects on self and others, dealing with loss, friendship and so much more. The characters or Benji, Bobo, Amat, Maya, Ana, Leo and even Teemu are very well developed. We find out more about their past and what makes them tick. The paths they take as they deal with what life has thrown at them and how they help one another are a major part of the story. The others in their families, Benji's sisters and Bobo's father are wonderfully supportive family members that are also dealing with major upheaval in their lives. When the hockey rivalry is rachetted up a notch the book takes on a life of its own. I do not want to give away the plot so will not describe any more than I have, but take my word for it. Fredrik Backman has become one of my favourite authors. He shows his amazing talent as he moves from one character to the next, as he creates a suspense and drama, which has the reader waiting for something awful to happen. As we get to know the thoughts and feelings of the many characters, and listen to their simple phrases that depict their thoughts on unconditional parental love, the depth of friendship, marriage and ambition, expectations, rivalry, loyalty, love and hate it makes the reader think deeply. There are so many wonderful quotes that I love in this book, but I will leave you with this one: "It’s so easy to get people to hate each other. That’s what makes love so impossible to understand. Hate is so simple that it always ought to win. It’s an uneven fight.” The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Netgalley.
Us Against You by Fredrik Backman is a very highly recommended novel about a town, its citizens, and a game. This is an excellent novel - absolutely outstanding. It will be on my list of top ten novels of the year. Us Against You is a sequel to Beartown, but it can be appreciated on its own. Personally, I would read Beartown first because it is an exceptional novel. "Try to make it sound like it’s just a sports club collapsing, even though sports clubs never really do that. They just cease to exist. It’s the people who collapse." This isn't just a novel about hockey, although the game plays a large role in the narrative. Even if you don't know anything about hockey, keep reading because there are insights into much larger truths. "[P]eople will always choose a simple lie over a complicated truth, because the lie has one unbeatable advantage: the truth always has to stick to what actually happened, whereas the lie just has to be easy to believe... [M]any of our worst deeds are the result of us never wanting to admit that we’re wrong. The greater the mistake and the worse the consequences, the more pride we stand to lose if we back down. So no one does." Beartown is a small down-on-its-luck Swedish town home to hardworking people who are obsessed with hockey and have always taken great pride in their team. Now it looks like their team might be eliminated. It's bad enough that many of their senior players are now play for Hed, their rival. Feelings are still raw across the town after the crisis from last year. A surprising new coach has come to Beartown who plans to build a winning team, and the team is going to be built on the talents of four untested teenagers. A despicable politician is manipulating people behind the scenes. The situation is complicated. All of the people involved are imperfect. "It's just a game, two teams, sticks and pucks. Us against you, doesn't that say it all?" Backman's writing style always makes me think of a fable, a folk story. I've said it before and it still stands. The writing is rich, masterful, and admirable. There are moments of great failure and overwhelming compassion, scenes of desperate cruelty and sly humor, and people with a malicious bent and others with a quiet wisdom. The empathetic narrative explores love, personal sacrifice, and the vital importance of family and friendships. This exceptional novel is part character study, part morality tale, part coming-of-age story, part family drama, part redemptive tale and totally wonderful. All of Backman's novels would be wonderful for book club discussions. "Our spontaneous reactions are rarely our proudest moments. It’s sad that a person’s first thought is the most honest, but that often isn’t true. It’s often just the most stupid. Why else would we have afterthoughts?" Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria Books via Netgalley.
At times sad and depressing, and at other times filled with love, loyalty and friendship, Us Against You is destined to be another beloved book by Fredrik Backman. The pre-amble at beginning of Us Against You kept me on edge and turning pages. The story tension starts high and remains as taut as an over-tightened guitar string that is ready to break on the next hard strum. The cast of characters is very broad, and Mr. Backman skillfully shows the breadth of the ripple effect from the traumatic events in his prior novel, Beartown. The Andersson family and Beartown are torn apart from the prior spring’s scandal. Us Against You is told in a third person narrative. The transitions between scenes within chapters are choppy. In some cases it felt like I was concurrently watching security footage from different cameras on multiple screens. However, those scenes are how we readers are able to see into the souls of many of the Beartown inhabitants. Hockey and the feud with the neighboring town of Hed infuse almost every life, conversation, and relationship in Beartown. Hockey is the oxygen the townsfolk breathe; therefore it is easy to manipulate multiple groups with political promises and threats by intertwining sports, medical care and employment. In addition to a delivering a healthy cautionary regarding politicians, Backman passes along lessons on rivalry, surviving, perseverance, loss, loneliness, compromise, and responsibility. Backman is a good storyteller. However, I did not feel that the level of emotional intimacy matched that of book one, Beartown. While I was invested in this sequel from the first page, it wasn’t until the story was building up to crescendo that I decided I liked this book. Us Against You was not one of my favorites from Backman, but the power and worthiness of the story continue to grow on me.
”In his final season, on his final night Buddy and a Finn goon were pegged for a fight Thirty seconds left, the puck took a roll And suddenly Buddy had a shot on goal “The goalie committed, Buddy picked his spot Twenty years of waiting went into that shot The fans jumped up, the Finn jumped too And coldcocked Buddy on his follow through The big man crumbled but he felt all right 'Cause the last thing he saw was the flashing red light He saw that heavenly light -- Hit Somebody!(The Hockey Song), Songwriters: Warren Zevon / Mitchell David Albom ”It’s going to be someone’s fault” ”Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did. We’ll end up saying that violence came to Beartown this summer, but that will be a lie, the violence was already here. Because sometimes hating each other is so easy that it seems incomprehensible that we ever do anything else.” There is no anonymity in Beartown for the people who live there. Everybody knows not only each other’s names, but also what they do, who their parents, or children, bosses, coworkers are, how many generations their families have lived there. They know who is trouble, and those who run the town. There is no hiding their flaws, their secrets, or the secret of who they really are. Not forever, anyway. People are born there, very few move away, but it is even more rare for someone to move to there. Beartown is Hockey. The lives of those who reside there celebrate this, their lives revolve around it, the games, the practices, it is where they belong. Even the conflict between Beartown and Hed, the neighboring town that views Beartown as being inferior. A case of the haves vs the have-nots, but throw in some politicians with questionable motives and things threaten to become volatile. As the town sees its way of life – hockey - being threatened, as they come to terms with the possibility of their hometown hockey team being disbanded unless something changes, their fears and pain unravel for us to see. And then, a potential new coach, a surprising choice, surely, and a new team will have to be formed, so many players lost to Hed, already. But will they be able to really form a team, bond together as they will need to do, in order to win? If you’ve read Backman’s Beartown, then you’re familiar with this town, and most of the people who live there, but some new characters are introduced, as well. Peter and Kira Andersson, their children Maya, 16, and Leo, 12. Benji, who has some secrets to share, and Bobo and Amat, then there’s Ana who is best friends with Maya, and Vidar, who has a short fuse, but also a protective love of his brother, Teemu. The parents are struggling with their own problems and their children’s, and these young people, struggling to figure out who they are under all the expectations of the parents, the school and the town. Maybe they will eventually find out what they’re made of. I loved how introspective this was, how we learn the story of this town and the people through their thoughts and feelings, their frustrations, their concerns, the hurt and shame and anger some carry with them. I loved, love, this town and these people, loved their loyalty to this place and when it came down to it, their loyalty to each other. I hurt when they hurt, and rooted them on in their journeys. ”Bang. Bang. Bang-bang-bang.” Many thanks for the ARC provided by Atria Books
I cannot remember the last time I have been so completely torn up over a book. There are no words that can accurately describe the range of emotions I have had through this book. It just blows me away. I don’t say this because the book was so amazing that I couldn’t put it down, because that just isn’t the case. At all. Before you think that this is a horrible review and you all start throwing things at me, just hear me out. There’s a method to my madness here. I was so excited to have been given the opportunity from NetGalley and Atria Publishing to read this book. I literally jumped up and down I was so pumped to get my hands on an advance copy. I loved Beartown so much and was dying to see what Backman had in store for some of my favorite characters. I just had so much trouble with it though. Like a lot of trouble getting through it. I’m usually a pretty quick reader and if I’m into a book…2-3 days tops to finish. No matter how long the book is because I won’t want to put it down, but…well, let’s put this into a timeline perspective here: Time to complete Beartown: 2 amazing days Time to complete Us Against You: 3 weeks That’s right. 3 looooong weeks. Now, to be fair, once I got through the first half of the book the remaining half only took me 2 days to finish. It’s that first part that really drags on, and on, and on. I was quickly losing interest and really had to read small amounts at a time or I was going to give up. Once the story gets to that part though, you know…the part that just grabs hold of you, I’m talking late nights, edge of your seat reading. What I’ve come to expect from a great Backman book. So when I was finished reading, stopped crying, and really took the time to think about it I think I figured it out. I was comparing Us Against You way too closely to Beartown. Now, as a sequel, it makes sense to compare the two books but you have to remember that they aren’t the same book. Same characters we all adore, same hockey loving town, same issues from the previous book BUT its own story. New characters, different conflicts, new ways to screw with your head and mess up your heart (Backman’s an emotional sadist I swear!). That’s what made me rethink my feelings on this book. Not the fact that it didn’t grab me right away like I was expecting but the fact that it had its own way of slowing drawing me in and then, BAM!, the ice breaks and I fall into the trap. Really, no other author can do what this man does in the way he does it. It absolutely amazes me. So if you’re going to read this book (and I highly suggest you do!) don’t go into it thinking that you’re going to get a Beartown high. You’re not. You’re going to get a slow burn before volcano erupts and it will be fantastic. Devastatingly, infuriatingly, only in the magical way a writer like Fredrik Backman can do it, fantastic!