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.
Dear Us Against You,
You made me so emotional. I was captivated by your raw, authentic presentation of life. You break the mold of poor sequels. Every page left me drawn in and invested in the characters. I would change nothing about you. Absolutely nothing.
Fredrik Backman, I absolutely love you! When his first book was published in English, A Man Called Ove, I was hooked on his writing. He quickly rose in my list to a must-read author. Without even reading the summary of his novels, I will pick up his book simply because he wrote it. Backman looks into the heart of people and writes. Their motivations, hurts, and desires are all exposed and wrapped up in an intriguing story. I am sad the sequel to Beartown took so long for me to pick up. In all honesty, Beartown is one of my favorite books, and a sequel to such an amazing book made me nervous. If you’ve never read Fredrik Backman books, I would recommend starting with A Man Called Ove. This book is so sweet and gives readers a taste for his writing. While you can’t go wrong with any of his books, A Man Called Ove feels special. Or there is an article with recommendations based on mood. Before you read Us Against You, I strongly recommend reading Beartown. There is a major event in Beartown, which is the main plot of Us Against You.
I want to first preface with a little introduction to Beartown. One of the biggest deterrents from reading Beartown is the hockey element. People don’t want to read a book about sports. So, let me start by saying: it is a town whose economy and lives circle around hockey, but the book goes into people, not sports. There is a sport/herd/locker room mentality analyzed by Backman, but the heart of the book is really about the people in the town. Every character has some attribute keeping me interested. I didn’t feel like there was a character I wanted to skip reading about (I did have a favorite though).
Do not read any further if you do not want spoilers on Beartown (#1)…
Before the story even begins, Backman talks directly to the reader and shares the entire story with the main plot points. Yet, as I read it, I was surprised at every turn he telegraphed. It is thick with foreshadowing. If you pay attention to his writing, you can tell what is going to happen. If I had to summarize this story, I would say it is a systematic approach to violence and the repercussions/impacts after. My favorite part of Backman’s writing is the people, so I am centering the review around the ones who stuck out to me.
Maya and Ana: “They squabble constantly and love each other unquestionably…” I loved the friendship continuation of Maya and Ana. Both are advocates for one another, while being individual characters. Maya and Ana both are dealing with a lot and struggling with what it looks like to move on from violence, even when the kids ruthlessly bring it up.
Benji: He goes through so much in this story… so much… he has lost his friend, he is hiding being gay from his town. Benji’s character is so real. His relationship with his mom and sisters, the way he reacts to stress and pressure, and the cost of being seen as strong. His hockey coach tells him, “Anyone who feels responsibility isn’t free”. This line is repeated and looked at from different points of views. But, it really does sum up Benji. He may come off aloof, but he is deeply invested in his town and friends. He is a natural born leader, even if at times he doesn’t want to be. I don’t want to share too much of his story, because it was one of my favorites.
Parents: “What does it take to be a good parent? Not much. Just everything. Absolutely everything”. I appreciate how there is not solely one generation looked at. It would be easy for an author to overlook the parents of the town and focus on the “players/children”. While the main parents are the Anderssons, every player’s parents are brought up at some point in the story. The relationship within the families was realistic with the good, the bad, the difficult, even the ugly. However, within the story it did not demean parents.
Positive family dynamics: not every family in this town is doing well, many tears were shed over one family in particular (to keep from any major spoilers I will refrain from saying who). There was a line from Maya, when she and her mom are talking I wrote because it hit me, “Maya wipes her tears and whispers, ‘Mom. You taught me that I don’t have to have dreams. I can have goals.'”. I really appreciated Maya’s mom being her role model, instead of toxic relationships which are pervasive in literature. Family is foundational in adolescent development and I enjoyed the emphasis Backman put on it.
At risk of going on and on and on, suffice to say, this book is for anyone and everyone. It is amazing, intriguing, deep, emotional, and both disheartening and heart-lifting. I want to end with the words of Fredrik Backman:
“I wish you courage
I wish you rushing blood
A heart that beats too hard
Feelings that make everything too hard
Love that gets out of control
The most intense adventures
I hope you find your way our
I hope your the kind of person
Who gets a happy ending”
Trigger Warnings: sexual assault, child abuse, death, and violence