The #1 New York Times bestselling 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 semi-finals, 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 semi-final 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.
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This reading group guide for Beartown 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.
Beartown is a small community on the brink of disappearing into the surrounding forest as the town loses more and more young people and commerce to the larger surrounding towns. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, home of the hockey club that has long been the sole source of entertainment and pride for the townspeople, and the only possible ticket out of town for the young men who grew up playing hockey there.
Now, the seventeen-year-old boys who make up Beartown’s junior ice hockey team carry the immense weight of all the town’s hopes and dreams on their shoulders. The team is about to compete in the national semifinals, and they actually have a shot at winning—a win that could bring a new hockey school, commerce, and prosperity back to Beartown.
The outcome of this semifinal match has the potential to change lives and make dreams come true. But when an act of violence leaves a young girl traumatized the night following the big game, the town is divided—and the people of Beartown must decide what they stand for, what they’ll allow, and what they’re willing to give up on the road to victory.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. What does hockey mean to the people of Beartown? What does winning the semifinal mean for the town’s future?
2. The town and the parents of the Beartown junior hockey team place great expectations on the shoulders of seventeen-year-old boys. How does this pressure affect the boys? Have the club’s leaders (David, Sune, Peter, and the others) prepared the boys to deal with this pressure? Have the boys’ parents?
3. How do issues related to social class affect the people of Beartown and the hockey club? Do those who live in the Hollow have a different world view from those who live in the Heights? Does hockey cut through class distinctions or reinforce them?
4. What does Kira’s role as a working mother, and her job as a lawyer, mean to her? How does her job affect the way others treat her? Consider this passage from the novel:
“Not a second has passed since she had children without her feeling like a bad mother. For everything. For not understanding, for being impatient, for not knowing everything, not making better packed lunches, for still wanting more out of life than just being a mother. She hears other women in Beartown sigh behind her back: ‘Yes, but she has a full-time job, you know. Can you imagine?’” (p. 63)
5. How do Peter and Kira complement each other in their relationship? How does he make up for her weaknesses, and vice versa? Do you think they have a solid marriage? A happy one?
6. Peter loves hockey because it demands his all, his everything. What does hockey demand from each of the characters in the book? What does it take from them?
7. There are many different parents and styles of parenting portrayed in the book. Which parents do you think are the most successful at preparing their children for the real world? Why?
8. Consider this sentiment echoed throughout the book: “What is a community? It is the sum total of our choices.” (p. 312) By this definition, how do the townspeople of Beartown ultimately measure up? What kind of community have they built?
9. Several characters must find the courage to go against the grain of the tight-knit Beartown community. What is at stake for each character who does so, and is it worth it for them in the end?
10. Discuss the difference between male and female roles in the small village of Beartown. What is expected of the girls and women vs. the boys and men? Which characters break these expectations, and what are the consequences of doing so?
11. Consider the importance of names and nicknames throughout the novel. How does the lack of first names for “Kevin’s mother,” “Kevin’s father,” “David’s girlfriend,” and Benji’s “bass player” change your impression of them? What effect does calling Maya “the young woman” have on Maya and her own narrative? How does she start to reclaim her own story?
12. In the course of the novel, we see that playing on a sports team teaches young people values like loyalty, responsibility, and commitment. But we also see instances of exclusion, aggression, and entitlement. Are their certain behaviors that are rewarded in a sports competition but considered inappropriate in daily life? Give examples. Which characters in the book have difficulty navigating this?
13. The events of the novel force the junior boys to grow up quickly as they are faced with very adult realities. What kind of man does Amat become over the course of the book? What do his actions reveal about him? What kind of man does Bobo become? Kevin? Benji?
14. Maya is surprised by how easily she can start to lie to her best friend, Ana, and keep secrets from her. How do each character’s secrets affect his or her relationship with loved ones? Consider the secrets between friends (Maya and Ana, Kevin and Benji, Amat and Zach), as well as those between parents and children, and husbands and wives.
15. How does Maya’s final act shape her future? How does it shape Kevin’s? Do you think a form of justice is achieved? Why or why not?
16. Why do you think Benji chooses to stay in Beartown and play for Sune’s A-Team instead of following the others to Hed? Was his choice affected by his relationship with the bass player?
17. At the end of the novel, do you think the tradition of the Beartown Hockey Club continues? Has its fundamental character changed? How do you think it will change going forward?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Who would you cast in the movie of Beartown?
2. If you haven’t read Fredrik Backman’s other novels before, go back and read A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, or Britt-Marie Was Here, as well as the novella And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, and compare the main themes to that of Beartown. Are there any universal themes you notice in all of Backman’s books?
3. Watch the classic hockey movie Miracle (2004), which tells the story of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” USA Olympic hockey team, with your book club. How does Coach Herb Brooks’s coaching style compare to that of Sune and David in Beartown?
4. Follow author Fredrik Backman on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Backmanland/) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/Backmanland) for news about upcoming books, events, and more.
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. Connect with him on Twitter @BackmanLand or on Instagram @backmansk.
“I wasn’t sure I would love a novel centred on hockey - but as with Friday Night Lights this is actually a story about people - about strength and tribal loyalty and what we unwittingly do when trying to show our boys how to be men. I utterly believed in the residents of Beartown, and felt ripped apart by the events in the book.”
– Jojo Moyes
"Like Friday Night Lights, this is about more than youth sports; it's part coming-of-age novel, part study of moral failure, and finally a chronicle of groupthink in which an unlikely hero steps forward to save more than one person from self-destruction. A thoroughly empathetic examination of the fragile human spirit, Backman's latest will resonate a long time."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Backman, a bestseller-list mainstay...returns with the story of a down-and-out town and its hopeful young hockey team...The sentimentally savvy Backman takes a sobering and solemn look at the ways alienation and acceptance, ethics and emotions nearly destroy a small town and young people."
“You’ll love this engrossing novel.”
"There’s so much heartbreak here, so much wisdom and raw emotion packed inside, that reading this novel makes for a powerful experience."
– The Book Reporter
“Consider this the Friday Night Lights of the ice rink. . . . Beartown has all the pleasures of a rainy-day matinee.”
– USA Today
“This story is a charmer.”
– Forth Worth Star-Telegram
“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 Oklahoman
“Fredrik Backman puts out some of the most human novels. Each and every work is carefully, delicately crafted, delving into the emotional depths of individuals that one might not look twice in real life. . . . Beartown is undoubtedly his masterpiece.”
– New York Journal of Books
“Backman’s dialogue and characters in Beartown create a story that is both specific and universal. With hockey as the story’s center, he explores loyalty to sport, relationships, the town and oneself.”
– St Louis Post-Dispatch
“Beartown is a moving novel, with a powerful messageand memorable characters. It is a graceful and hard-hitting, compassionate and unapologetic examination of sports culture and the people who breathe life into an otherwise meaningless game.”
– The Winnipeg Free Press
PRAISE FOR A MAN CALLED OVE
“A charming debut…You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel new sympathy for the curmudgeons in your life. You’ll also want to move to Scandinavia, where everything’s cuter.”
“Even the most serious reader of fiction needs light relief, and for that afternoon when all you want is charm, this is the perfect book."
– San Francisco Chronicle
"A light hearted, deeply moving novel about a grumpy but loveable curmudgeon who finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door. This quirky debut is a thoughtful and charming exploration of the impact one life has on countless others—and an absolute delight."
– CBS Local
"An inspiring affirmation of love for life and acceptance of people for their essence and individual quirks. A Man Called Ove is a perfect selection for book clubs. It's well written and replete with universal concerns. It lacks violence and profanity, is life-affirming and relationship-driven. The book is bittersweet, tender, often wickedly humorous and almost certain to elicit tears. I contentedly wept my way through a box of tissues when I first read the novel and again when I savored it for a second time.”
"A Man Called Ove is exquisite. The lyrical language is the confetti thrown liberally throughout this celebration-of-life story, adding sparkle and color to an already spectacular party. Backman's characters feel so authentic that readers will likely find analogues living in their own neighborhoods."
– Shelf Awareness (starred review)
"Readers seeking feel-good tales with a message will rave about the rantings of this solitary old man with a singular outlook. If there was an award for 'Most Charming Book of the Year,' this first novel by a Swedish blogger-turned-overnight-sensation would win hands down."
– Booklist, Starred Review
“A funny crowd-pleaser that serves up laughs to accompany a thoughtful reflection on loss and love… The author writes with winning charm.”
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
“This charming debut novel by Backman should find a ready audience with English-language readers… hysterically funny… wry descriptions, excellent pacing… In the contest of Most Winning Combination, it would be hard to beat grumpy Ove and his hidden,generous heart.”
– Kirkus Reviews
PRAISE FOR MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE'S SORRY
“[…] Believable and fanciful. Backman’s smooth storytelling infuses his characters with charm and wit. . . Engaging. . . A delightful story.”
– St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Every bit as churlish but lovable as Backman’s cantankerous protagonist in his debut, A Man Called Ove (2014), precocious Elsa will easily work her way into the hearts of readers who like characters with spunk to spare. A delectable homage to the power of stories to comfort and heal, Backman’s tender tale of the touching relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter is a tribute to the everlasting bonds of deep family ties.”
– Booklist (starred)
“Firmly in league with Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman. A touching, sometimes funny, often wise portrait of grief.”
– Kirkus Reviews
"In his second offering, Backman (A Man Called Ove) continues to write with the same whimsical charm and warm heart as in his debut."
– Publishers Weekly
PRAISE FOR BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE
“The bestselling author of A MAN CALLED OVE returns with this heartwarming story about a woman rediscovering herself after personal crisis. Backman reveals Britt-Marie’s need for order….with clear, tight descriptions. Insightful and touching, this is a sweet and inspiring story about truth and transformation. Fans of Backman’s will find another winner in these pages.”
– Publishers Weekly
"Britt-Marie’s metamorphosis from cocoon to butterfly seems all the more remarkable for the utterly discouraging environment in which it takes place."
“A brilliant mix of belly-laughs, profound insight and captivating events delivered… with Backman's pitch-perfect dialogue and an unparalleled understanding of human nature."
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