Bookworm Sez: Hockey knowledge not needed for ‘Beartown’

Your favorite team cannot be beat.

As soon as they hit the court, field, or rink, they play their hearts out to win. And win. And win. The competition is… well, there really isn’t much competition but, as in the new book “Beartown” by Fredrik Backman, trouble may come from within.

Hockey, for Beartown, wasn’t just a game. It was life.

Little boys learned to play hockey almost as soon as they walked. Everyone supported the team, tickets were dear, and local businesses were fierce sponsors. Hockey was life, and with a bigger city just down the road, it had become the only reason Beartown hadn’t disappeared altogether. This, Peter Andersson knew.

Once, Peter had been a Bear: a star in juniors, the A-team, and then the NHL, where he was injured enough to retire, move back to Beartown, and become the teams’ General Manager. It was a good move for Peter but maybe not so much for his wife, Kira, or his children, fifteen-year-old Maya and twelve-year-old Leo.

And for that, Peter second-guessed himself often.

Boys like Kevin Erdahl made the guilt bearable.

At seventeen, Kevin had a rosy future ahead: junior team, A-team, then pro in short order. He was one of the finest players Peter had ever seen, and everybody in Beartown agreed – coaches, parents, girls, and Kevin’s best friend, Benji.

They were a team, Benjamin and Kevin – mostly because Benji was fearless. He didn’t seem to feel pain, never worried, never lost sleep; he never missed a good donnybrook, either, just as he never let his coaches or his best friend down. On the ice, Benji kept the opposition away from Kevin. Off-rink, he kept away trouble. It was his job.

Everybody in Beartown knew what was riding on the junior semi-finals match. Virtually nobody in town was even thinking of missing what would promise to be a hockey game they’d talk about for decades. It could be the game of the century.

But “There’s a storm brewing.”

And if author Fredrik Backman just stopped his story right there, “Beartown” would still be a first-rate, don’t-dare-miss novel. Instead, just after that Big Game scene, there’s a proper explosion, as is promised in a very short Chapter One, and it’s a ka-boom that’ll have your fingernails buried in this books’ cover.

Indeed, Backman’s exciting lead-up to the game is only a fraction of this story, which gives readers time to cultivate a good feel for who the characters are and how they jigsaw together in this small town in the woods. Knowing them and the baggage that keeps them in Beartown will keep you breathless as the fallout rains down, and as you race toward the Perfect-with-a-Capital-P ending inside this book.

You don’t have to know hockey to enjoy this story; in fact, you might like it a little better if you don’t. You may even love it if you’re a fan of keeps-you-guessing novels of exquisite storytelling. Undoubtedly, if you’re a big Backman fan, you need this book because “Beartown” cannot be beat.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at bookwormsez@yahoo.com.

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