Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
I loved returning to this community and its wonderful cast of characters. Backman truly has a gift for making you care about the most unexpected of people. This is another emotional read that will make you laugh and break your heart.
Please note: I’ve tried to keep the spoilers to a minimum but as this is a sequel there are some mild ones for the first book Beartown.
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.
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
As he always says, we only pretend hockey is complicated, because it isn’t really. When you strip away all the nonsense surrounding it, the game is simple: everyone gets a stick; there are two nets, two teams. Us against you.
In theory this is a book about ice hockey and all those involved in it but it’s really not. Like the first book, Beartown, this is much more about people and a community that’s struggling. Hockey is just the thing that gives them hope and a sense of identity. As you can probably tell from the title this is a book that focuses on the divisions between factions that can tear a community apart.
The story picks up not long after the first book (which you really should read first) and despite it seeming that the community were starting to come together there are in fact more divisions than ever. Beartown’s star hockey player has left town for good and most of the other key players have moved to rival team Hed. The council struggling for money and wanting to distance themselves from “The Scandal” want to get rid of what remains of Beartown’s team, something the pack are unhappy about and hold General Manager Peter Andersson responsible for and there’s an ambitious new politician in town who’s stirring things up as much as possible to boost his own position. Essentially tensions are rising and it’s only a matter of time before it escalates out of control.
Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did. We’ll end up saying that violence came to Beartown this summer, but that would be a lie; the violence was already here. Because sometimes hating one another is so easy that it seems incomprehensible that we ever do anything else.
Similar to the first book this is not an action packed read, but rather a slow build to some truly devastating events. It’s very much a character driven story which is good as that’s where Backman really excels. He has this incredible ability to create characters you can’t help but care about and oftentimes it’s the one you least expect or the one you don’t really like that you end up caring about the most.
There are a lot of the same characters from the first book and it was both wonderful and awful to catch up with them again and see how they’re doing. Some are moving forward but it has to be said the majority are still having a rough time of it and dealing with the aftermath of the events of the first book. They do however all grow and develop over the course of the story and I felt like I really came to know them. I was incredibly proud of some of them, some frustrated me and made me angry and some of them broke my heart. All of them left an impression.
I will admit I continue to have the biggest soft spot for hockey player Benji, he’s just such a mess of emotions and secrets but always tries to do the right thing. He breaks my heart and I found myself constantly worrying about what he would do. I loved the close relationship between him and his family but I couldn’t help but feel so sorry for his poor mother and sisters.
While it was good to catch up with the characters I knew and loved the new characters made for some welcome additions. The new Beartown hockey coach is possibly my new favourite character. I’m not going to say too much about them other than that they are definitely different and shake things up a lot. The relationship between coach and general manager Peter is just hilarious and some of the dialogue is just brilliant. A much needed bit of lightness in what is occasionally a very dark and depressing story.
There’s also a lot more on the elusive “Pack” (a group of dedicated and loyal fans you don’t mess with) and it’s members which really showed how they’re more than just thugs and criminals (although there is a bit of that too), why hockey is so important to them and how much they really do for the community despite their reputation.
I have to say too that while politician Richard Theo is a horrible character who deliberately causes problems and stirs up trouble for his own ends he is brilliantly done and makes for a truly Machiavellian villain and gives the author the chance to have a little dig at the current political situation.
The writing style is pretty similar to that in Beartown, something I both love and hate. It’s told almost like a story from a narrator reflecting back on the events. There’s a lot of foreshadowing of what’s to come something I have to say really frustrates me. It’s difficult to enjoy a story when you’re constantly being warned of the violence and tragedy to come. I was terrified my fave character would be the victim of this tragedy. There are also short sections from multiple povs to contend with which does take me a bit of time to get used to. It’s a little harder to connect to one character when you’re only with them for short time and then it’s on to the next, and the next.
Somehow however I did find myself connecting with each and every one. Even those who’re only very briefly featured felt like very real people. I laughed a lot, I cried a lot more and I fell in love with this community even with all of it’s problems. It may be set in a country I’ve never even visited and center around a sport I know next to nothing about but it’s just so incredibly easy to relate to and could be the community I live in (if you switched the sport to football).
Overall this is another incredibly emotional and wonderfully written story from an author who is quickly becoming one of my favourites. Given how it ends it feels like everything has been wrapped up but I would very happily read more in this series.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.