Can a broken town survive a second tragedy? The follow-up to the international bestseller Beartown, from #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail bestselling author Fredrik Backman.
After everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet another blow when they hear that their beloved local junior 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. As the tension between the two towns simmers, a surprising newcomer is handpicked to try to save the Beartown club.
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 heated.
As the big game between Beartown and Hed 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.
Us Against You is a declaration of love for all the big and small, bright and dark stories that form and color our communities. Compelling and heartbreaking, it’s a roller-coaster ride of emotions and a showcase for “Fredrik Backman’s pitch-perfect dialogue and unparalleled understanding of human nature” (Shelf Awareness).
Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did. We ’ll end up saying that violence came to Beartown this summer, but that will be a lie; the vio- lence was already here. Because sometimes hating one another is so easy that it seems incomprehensible that we ever do anything else.
We ’re a small community in the forest; people say that no roads lead here, just past. The economy coughs every time it takes a deep breath; the factory cuts its workforce each year like a child that thinks no one will notice the cake in the fridge getting smaller if you take a little bit from each side. If you lay a current map of the town over an old one, the main shopping street and the little strip known as “the center” seem to shrink like bacon in a hot pan. We have an ice rink but not much else. But on the other hand, as people usually say here: What the hell else do you need?
People driving through say that Beartown doesn’t live for any- thing but hockey, and some days they may be right. Sometimes people have to be allowed to have something to live for in order to survive everything else. We ’re not mad, we ’re not greedy; say what you like about Beartown, but the people here are tough and hardworking. So we built a hockey team that was like us, that we could be proud of, because we weren’t like you. When people from the big cities thought something seemed too hard, we just grinned and said, “It’s supposed to be hard.” Growing up here wasn’t easy; that’s why we did it, not you. We stood tall, no matter the weather. But then something hap- pened, and we fell.
There ’s a story about us before this one, and we ’re always going to carry the guilt of that. Sometimes good people do terrible things in the belief that they’re trying to protect what they love. A boy, the star of the hockey team, raped a girl. And we lost our way. A community is the sum of its choices, and when two of our children said different things, we believed him. Because that was easier, because if the girl was lying our lives could carry on as usual. When we found out the truth, we fell apart, taking the town with us. It’s easy to say that we should have done everything differently, but perhaps you wouldn’t have acted differently, either. If you’d been afraid, if you’d been forced to pick a side, if you’d known what you had to sacrifice. Perhaps you wouldn’t be as brave as you think. Perhaps you’re not as different from us as you hope.
This is the story of what happened afterward, from one summer to the following winter. It is about Beartown and the neighboring town of Hed, and how the rivalry between two hockey teams can grow into a mad struggle for money and power and survival. It is a story about hockey rinks and all the hearts that beat around them, about people and sports and how they sometimes take turns carrying each other. About us, people who dream and fight. Some of us will fall in love, others will be crushed; we ’ll have good days and some very bad days. This town will rejoice, but it will also start to burn. There ’s going to be a terrible bang.
Some girls will make us proud; some boys will make us great. Young men dressed in different colors will fight to the death in a dark forest. A car will drive too fast through the night. We will say that it was a traffic accident, but accidents happen by chance, and we will know that we could have prevented this one. This one will be someone’s fault.
People we love will die. We will bury our children beneath our most beautiful trees.
2 There Are Three Types of People
The highest point in Beartown is a hill to the south of the last build- ings in town. From there you can see all the way from the big villas on the Heights, past the factory and the ice rink and the smaller row houses near the center, right over to the blocks of rental apartments in the Hollow. Two girls are standing on the hill looking out across their town. Maya and Ana. They’ll soon be sixteen, and it’s hard to say if they became friends in spite of their differences or because of them. One of them likes musical instruments; the other likes guns. Their mutual loathing of each other’s taste in music is almost as re- current a topic of argument as their ten-year-long fight about pets. Last winter they got thrown out of a history class at school because Maya muttered, “You know who was a dog person, Ana? Hitler!” whereupon Ana retorted, “You know who was a cat person, then? Josef Mengele!”
They squabble constantly and love each other unquestioningly, and ever since they were little they have had days when they’ve felt it was just the two of them against the whole world. Ever since what hap- pened to Maya earlier in the spring, every day has felt like that.
It’s the very start of June. For three-quarters of the year this place is encapsulated in winter, but now, for a few enchanted weeks, it’s sum- mer. The forest around them is getting drunk on sunlight, the trees sway happily beside the lakes, but the girls’ eyes are restless. This time of year used to be a time of endless adventure for them; they would spend all day out in nature and come home late in the evening with torn clothes and dirty faces, childhood in their eyes. That’s all gone.
They’re adults now. For some girls that isn’t something you choose, it’s something that gets forced upon you.
Bang. Bang. Bang-bang-bang.
A mother is standing outside a house. She ’s packing her child’s things into a car. How many times does that happen while they’re growing up? How many toys do you pick up from the floor, how many stuffed animals do you have to form search parties for at bedtime, how many mittens do you give up on at preschool? How many times do you think that if nature really does want people to reproduce, then perhaps evo- lution should have let all parents grow extra sets of arms so they can reach under all the wretched sofas and fridges? How many hours do we spend waiting in hallways for our kids? How many gray hairs do they give us? How many lifetimes do we devote to their single one? What does it take to be a good parent? Not much. Just everything. Absolutely everything.
Up on the hill Ana turns to her best friend and asks, “Do you remem- ber when we were little? When you always wanted to pretend that we had kids?”
Maya nods without taking her eyes from the town. “Do you still want kids?” Ana asks. Maya’s mouth barely opens when she replies. “Don’t know. Do you?” Ana shrugs her shoulders slightly, halfway between anger and sor- row. “Maybe when I’m old.” “How old?” “Dunno. Thirty, maybe.” Maya is silent for a long time, then asks, “Do you want boys or girls?”
Ana replies as if she ’s spent her whole life thinking about this, “Boys.” “Why?” “Because the world is kind of shitty toward them sometimes. But it treats us like that nearly all the time.”
The mother closes the trunk, holding back tears because she knows that if she lets out so much as a single one, they will never stop. No matter how old they get, we never want to cry in front of our children. We ’d do anything for them; they never know because they don’t un- derstand the immensity of something that is unconditional. A parent’s love is unbearable, reckless, irresponsible. They’re so small when they sleep in their beds and we sit beside them, shattered to pieces inside. It’s a lifetime of shortcomings, and, feeling guilty, we stick happy pic- tures up everywhere, but we never show the gaps in the photograph album, where everything that hurts is hidden away. The silent tears in darkened rooms. We lie awake, terrified of all the things that can hap- pen to them, everything they might be subjected to, all the situations in which they could end up victims.
The mother goes around the car and opens the door. She ’s not much different from any other mother. She loves, she gets frightened, falls apart, is filled with shame, isn’t enough. She sat awake beside her son’s bed when he was three years old, watching him sleep and fearing all the terrible things that could happen to him, just like every parent does. It never occurred to her that she might need to fear the exact opposite.
It’s dawn, the town is asleep; the main road out of Beartown is empty, but the girls’ eyes are still fixed on it from up on the hilltop. They wait patiently.
Maya no longer dreams about the rape. About Kevin’s hand over her mouth, the weight of his body stifling her screams, his room with all the hockey trophies on the shelves, the floor the button of her blouse bounced across. She just dreams about the running track behind the Heights now; she can see it from up here. When Kevin was running on his own and she stepped out of the darkness with a shotgun. Held it to his head as he shook and sobbed and begged for mercy. In her dreams she kills him, every night.
How many times does a mother make her child giggle? How many times does the child make her laugh out loud? Kids turn us inside out the first time we realize that they’re doing it intentionally, when we discover that they have a sense of humor. When they make jokes, learn to manipulate our feelings. If they love us, they learn to lie shortly after that, to spare our feelings, pretending to be happy. They’re quick to learn what we like. We might tell ourselves that we know them, but they have their own photograph albums, and they grow up in the gaps.
How many times has the mother stood beside the car outside the house, checked the time, and impatiently called her son’s name? She doesn’t have to do that today. He ’s been sitting silently in the passen- ger seat for several hours while she packed his things. His once well- toned body is thin after weeks in which she ’s struggled to get food into him. His eyes stare blankly through the windshield.
How much can a mother forgive her son for? How can she possibly know that in advance? No parent imagines that her little boy is going to grow up and commit a crime. She doesn’t know what nightmares he dreams now, but he shouts when he wakes up from them. Ever since that morning she found him on the running track, motionless with cold, stiff with fear. He had wet himself, and his desperate tears had frozen on his cheeks.
He raped a girl, and no one could ever prove it. There will always be people who say that means he got away with it, that his family escaped punishment. They’re right, of course. But it will never feel like that for his mother.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
When the car begins to move along the road, Maya stands on the hill and knows that Kevin will never come back here. That she has broken him. There will always be people who say that means she won. But it will never feel like that to her.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.
The brake lights go on for a moment; the mother casts one last glance in the rearview mirror, at the house that was a home and the gluey scraps on the mailbox where the name “Erdahl” has been torn off, letter by letter. Kevin’s father is packing the other car alone. He stood beside the mother on the track, saw their son lying there with tears on his sweater and urine on his trousers. Their lives had shattered long before then, but that was when she first saw the shards. The father refused to help her as she half carried, half dragged the boy through the snow. That was two months ago. Kevin hasn’t left the house since then, and his parents have barely said a word to each other. Men define themselves in more distinctive ways than women, life has taught her that, and her husband and son have always defined themselves with one single word: winners. As long as she can remember, the father has drummed the same message into the boy: “There are three types of people: winners, losers, and the ones who watch.”
And now? If they’re not winners, what are they? The mother takes her foot off the brake, switches the radio off, drives down the road, and turns the corner. Her son sits beside her. The father gets into the other car, drives alone in the opposite direction. The divorce papers are in the mail, along with the letter to the school saying that the father has moved to another town and the mother and son have gone abroad. The mother’s phone number is at the bottom in case anyone at the school has any questions, but no one ’s going to call. This town is going do everything it can to forget that the Erdahl family was ever a part of it.
After four hours of silence in the car, when they’re so far from Beartown that they can’t see any forest, Kevin whispers to his mother, “Do you think it’s possible to become a different person?”
She shakes her head, biting her bottom lip, and blinks so hard she can’t see the road in front of her. “No. But it’s possible to become a better person.” Then he holds out a trembling hand. She holds it as if he were three years old, as if he were dangling over the edge of a cliff. She whispers, “I can’t forgive you, Kevin. But I’ll never abandon you.”
That’s the sound of this town, everywhere. Perhaps you understand that only if you live here.
On the hilltop stand two girls, watching the car disappear. They’ll soon be sixteen. One of them is holding a guitar, the other a rifle.
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.
“This is a tale of the pitfalls of group mentality as well as the loss of an innocence we all take for granted—and it will grip you from start to finish.”
– Canadian Living
“Just as the cult TV hit Friday Night Lights wasn’t just about high-school football, this sequel to Beartown . . . is about more than small-town hockey. . . . Us Against You is a story of hopes, dreams, loyalty, friendship, and—after someone is left for dead—the lengths people will go to for the love of the game.”
– Chris Daniels, Hello! Canada
PRAISE FOR BEARTOWN
“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, New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You
"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 message and 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.”
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