Play Book Tag discussion

Beartown (Beartown, #1)
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September 2019: Cultural > Beartown by Fredrik Backman, 5 stars {TRIM}

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message 1: by NancyJ (last edited Sep 10, 2019 01:12AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 5002 comments Beartown was my Trim book for this month, and it turned out to be a very good pick for the cultural tag. The book deals with culture at multiple levels - from the culture of the team, the hockey club, the town, and to a lesser extent the country of Sweden. It also deals with issues that are common to many sports – the culture of winning, and the culture of silence. See the Buddy read for some of the quotes in the book on culture.

I enjoyed the writing, the characters, the story, and I learned something too. Some of my favorite parts involved the friendships between the kids (you never have friends like you did when you were 15), the relationships between the parents and kids, and how the characters changed throughout the year.

I was initially interested in the book because I was a hockey mom. I lugged around sticks and equipment in my minivan, drove my kids to 7am practices and games, and watched and waited in cold arenas. When necessary, I graded papers while sitting in the stands, trying to tune out the mad dads who loved to yell. It was sometimes intense, but ultimately, hockey was just a game. However… To the people of Beartown and many other small towns in Sweden, hockey is everything. The town is struggling due to some job losses, and they are pinning all their hopes (economic and otherwise) on their Junior hockey team. The whole town takes a proprietary interest in the Beartown Ice Hockey Club (and ice rink) and when a crisis hits, they all want a say in what happens next.

[Note - At first I thought this was Junior Varsity hockey, but this is much more competitive. The age range is about 16-18, and the best players are only a few steps away from a career in the NHL in Canada or US. I read about one town in Sweden that has a great track record of developing players to export to the National Hockey League.]

The first half of the book focuses on the hockey club and the Junior team. It was surprisingly engaging for me (a non athlete) to read about some of the challenges faced by the kids, and various ways that coaches, parents and teachers can help. There is a lot about achievement and teamwork that could be applied to other settings.

I gained a new respect for Backman as a writer. (I already liked him because of A Man Called Ove.) I liked that he was able to find small nuances that helped to bring life to characters. The kids became more than stock characters. I especially appreciated that many of the mothers had their own stories and actual personalities! That shouldn’t be so miraculous, but I remember seeing a lot of books and tv shows written for boys, where all the mothers were little more than props in the kitchen. The character development is uneven in a way that makes me think the author was making a statement. Some of the smaller characters are well developed and have emotional depth (especially the bar owner), while others (e.g. the President of the club) aren’t even given a name.

There is a shift in the second half of the book that challenges the culture.

"Culture is as much about what we encourage as what we actually permit.”

Culture is about values, norms and the expectations we have of one another. What happens if violations of the rules and values are permitted or ignored? What happens when the star player of a team is accused of rape? [In my opinion, this is where a culture of winning can result in denial (she’s lying), and a culture of silence. It can erode a team from the inside.]

Alert (not a spoiler): There is a rape of a teenage girl in the book about midway. It’s not graphic, and I think it does a good job with the relevant issues. It partially explains why a girl might not report it right away* and may provide some insights on blaming the victim. I think it’s suitable for teenagers and might generate some good discussion. The second half of the book deals with what happens next to all the characters in the book. There are some interesting dynamics between the town and the donors of the hockey club, and some very memorable moments. Some of these issues might not be of interest to younger readers. The very end felt rushed to me, and might lead to a slightly lower rating. It seemed that the author was both typing up loose ends, and segueing into the next book.

[Training/Me-too notes. *The fact is that many women/girls don’t report harassment and rape, and it’s hard for some people to understand why. Last year’s me-too movement led many women to finally speak up about a rape in her past. I saw hundreds of quotes on twitter by women explaining “Why I didn’t report it.” These were very powerful, and I think they can really impact empathy and understanding. I would recommend using some of them in discussions or training programs about rape and harassment.]


message 2: by Holly R W (new)

Holly R W | 1175 comments What an excellent review, Nancy! Although I haven't read the book and can't comment on it, I can relate to your comparison of youth sports to having a culture all its own. For years, I was first a baseball mom and then a wrestling mom. Your review brought back vivid memories of those days. Thanks!


Jason Oliver | 2063 comments Wonderful review. I hope you enjoy Us Against You as much as you have enjoyed Beartown.


Charlotte | 1493 comments Amazing review! I just finished this last night.


Karin | 6926 comments Just curious--how many stars?


message 6: by NancyJ (last edited Sep 10, 2019 07:57PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 5002 comments I gave it 4.5, bumped up to 5 stars. I'm not sure why it's not showing up.

... I had duplicates in mybooks


NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 5002 comments Holly R W wrote: "What an excellent review, Nancy! Although I haven't read the book and can't comment on it, I can relate to your comparison of youth sports to having a culture all its own. For years, I was first a ..."

At the time, my life felt too hectic, but sometimes I really miss it. It's bringing back memories for me too. I wish I stayed in touch with all the moms.


Karin | 6926 comments NancyJ wrote: "I gave it 4.5, bumped up to 5 stars. I'm not sure why it's not showing up.

... I had duplicates in mybooks"


It shows up, but not until you refresh the page or come back later :).


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