I had the opportunity to download the ebook of The Winners on NetGalley after I discovered Beartown, the audiobook at my local library on the advice of Lynne of Fictionophile who thought I’d appreciate the former better having read the first in the series. Of course, The Winners at 684 pages would have been a daunting read for me, so I turned it over to the CE who burns through books like he does sweets. I really thought the CE would love it. We all came away with wildly different views of the series.
Best Literature & Fiction
2018 Audie Award Finalist for Fiction
The number-one New York Times best-selling author of A Man Called Ove returns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream – and the price required to make it come true.
People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semifinals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.
Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semifinal match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made, and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.
Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.
My first experience with a Backman novel and perhaps this might not have been the best choice. Genre is clearly noted as being sports fiction and this is definitely outside of my normal reading choices. As others have noted, however, it is a great deal more—my problem was in having the patience sufficient to get through the heavily weighted ice hockey game descriptions; game strategy, players, coaches, parents, rivalry, and ethics.
Of course, I loved that it is located in a tiny community in a deeply forested area of Sweden where one of the names of the major characters is Andersson since my grandmother was 100% Swedish and we still have distant relatives located there about six miles from the North Sea (if I’ve remembered it correctly. In the US, the family dropped the extra “S” that denoted the family name as Anders sons).
It is the crushing isolation and the economic loss killing the little town that seems to force the only claim to fame it possesses—a junior ice hockey team extremely good at winning. Some of these kids are so good they are recruited to professional hockey. Too much weight on the shoulders of teenagers, however, builds the tension that eventually threatens to bury the last of their hopes.
It isn’t until two-thirds (or more) into the narrative that something tragic occurs that drives the plot slightly off the sports rail, much of it spent in chanting, “Beartown, Beartown, Beartown!”
The boys are a mix of low to well-to-do with the well-to-do kid one of the stars of the team and the nastiest of the group. The boy who wins my heart is the smallest (and fastest), Amat.
An emotional look at parenting, teenage angst, friendships, disloyalty, deadly rivalries, and the need to be accepted. I could understand the decisions made while at the same time railed at the loss it reflected.
I downloaded the audiobook from my local library that in no way influenced this review. These are my honest thoughts.
Rosepoint Rating: Four Stars
Genre: Sports Fiction, Small Town & Rural Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Narrator: Marin Ireland
Print Length: 13 hrs 11 mins
Publication Date: April 25, 2017
Source: Local Library
Title Link: Beartown [Amazon]
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The Winners: A Novel
in Sports Fiction
A breathtaking new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Anxious People and A Man Called Ove, The Winners returns to the close-knit, resilient community of Beartown for a story about first loves, second chances, and last goodbyes.
Over the course of two weeks, everything in Beartown will change.
Maya Andersson and Benji Ovich, two young people who left in search of a life far from the forest town, come home and joyfully reunite with their closest childhood friends. There is a new sense of optimism and purpose in the town, embodied in the impressive new ice rink that has been built down by the lake.
Two years have passed since the events that no one wants to think about. Everyone has tried to move on, but there’s something about this place that prevents it. The destruction caused by a ferocious late-summer storm reignites the old rivalry between Beartown and the neighboring town of Hed, a rivalry which has always been fought through their ice hockey teams.
Maya’s parents, Peter and Kira, are caught up in an investigation of the hockey club’s murky finances, and Amat—once the star of the Beartown team—has lost his way after an injury and a failed attempt to get drafted into the NHL. Simmering tensions between the two towns turn into acts of intimidation and then violence. All the while, a fourteen-year-old boy grows increasingly alienated from this hockey-obsessed community and is determined to take revenge on the people he holds responsible for his beloved sister’s death. He has a pistol and a plan that will leave Beartown with a loss that is almost more that it can stand.
As it beautifully captures all the complexities of daily life and explores questions of friendship, loyalty, loss, and identity, this emotion-packed novel asks us to reconsider what it means to win, what it means to lose, and what it means to forgive.
Beartown and Hed have had a rivalry as long as anyone could remember. There are two hockey teams and the competition is manic. There have been players good enough to advance to the NHL but that is not the deciding advantage in the area. Even a losing season is overlooked as long as the losers beat the neighboring town’s hockey team.
Remoteness in a seemingly endless forest captures the young people in a never-ending rivalry as well. Dates between the towns’ young people almost require a secret encounter rather than a public display. The town fathers are hyper in their protection of the team and the efforts to recruit the best players from each town.
The seclusion fosters paranoia between the towns as well. Closely guarded practices and team meetings engender the best in spy craft. Knowing the other teams’ strengths and game plans insures that the other team will be on top at the end of the season.
The schism that exists creates a continuous rivalry that permeates the fabric of the community and the end result is competition that can at times turn deadly. This author has spun a fantastical story which drove me to stop reading early because of the hate engendered between the young people in the towns.
I found the narrative disturbing in so many ways and felt a deep sadness for the inhabitants of both of the cities. It was so difficult to read the hate engendered between the young people of the two towns, I failed to complete the entire novel. Crushing theme of isolation failure, humanity. 3 stars – CE Williams
Many thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for providing me with the opportunity to read and review this book.
Rosepoint Publishing: Three Stars
Genre: Sports Fiction, Small Town & Rural Fiction
Publisher: Atria Books
Print Length: 684 pages
Publication Date: September 27, 2022
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
Title Links: The Winners [Amazon-US]
Barnes & Noble
The Author: Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, and two novellas, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and The Deal of a Lifetime, as well as one work of nonfiction, Things My Son Needs to Know About the World. His books are published in more than forty countries. His next novel, Anxious People, will be published in September 2020. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter @BackmanLand or on Instagram @Backmansk.
©2022 CE Williams – V Williams