By Ekta R. Garg
August 15, 2018
Genre: Mainstream fiction
Release date: June 5, 2018
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
The residents of a small town must fight their egos and their loyalties to get past one of the biggest scandals in generations. As their local hockey team, the town’s only saving grace, prepares for the new season, people find new friends and disregard old ones as they decide individually and as a community where to draw the line between right and wrong. In his sequel to his previous novel, Beartown, author Fredrik Backman brings back beloved characters and continues a heart-wrenching story in the slow to start but excellent book Us Against You.
At one time every resident of Beartown held up his or her head in pride. Some considered the town a backwaters place on the verge of extinction, but no one could doubt the level of talent in the town’s junior league hockey team. The team had a shot at the national title, until its star player, Kevin, got arrested the night of the game that would decide the team’s fate. Accused of rape, Kevin and his family left town and everyone who stayed behind chose a side.
Peter Andersson, the coach who alerted the police to Kevin’s alleged crime, gets ousted by the board, leaving the team scrabbling for answers. Some players get recruited by the team for the nearby town of Hed, and the boys are happy to go. They idolized Kevin and don’t know what to think of the accusations against him. By going to Hed, at least they still get to play hockey. On the ice, life is blissfully simple.
No one can stay on the ice forever, however, and off it the players have to face their families and one another. Beartown still has plenty of boys who want to represent it. The departure of some key players means others get to move up in the ranks, and it also means a new coach has the opportunity to train the boys. With a new season comes key games between Hed and Beartown, and the rivalry rises to a new level. Players from both teams start playing “pranks” that escalate in their audacity. It isn’t until a resident ends up dead, however, that parents and players alike realize that what started out as a game has played with every element of their lives.
Author Fredrik Backman brings back all the characters from the heartbreaking Beartown and continues their story in Us Against You. Backman’s writing style and his depth of characterization, once again, hit the mark dead on. With every book he writes, Backman hones his art to a razor-sharp point that allows him to tickle his readers or prick their hearts—sometimes within the same paragraph. He balances the points of view of several characters, allowing readers to understand motivations and decide for themselves who’s right and who’s wrong.
The only distraction in the book comes in the pacing in the first third that could have moved a little faster. Perhaps, because this is his first sequel, Backman wanted to handle his readers with as much care as he does his characters and story. One thing is for certain: if a reader hasn’t found Beartown yet, he or she will know exactly what happened in that story because Backman gives it to readers in this latest book albeit in abbreviated form. While revisiting the previous book helped bring back characters and memories, from a mechanical standpoint it also takes up space that could have been devoted to more of the current story.
In his winning, charming style, however, Backman makes even the extensive back story engaging. He draws such a realistic picture that his target audience will want to spend as much time with the characters as possible. For those who wondered how Peter, his family, and their friends have fared since the end of Beartown, the extra time in Us Against You is precious and welcomed.
Also, in the greatest tribute to his talent, Backman doesn’t let the back story detract from the new tale he wants to tell. It’s just as appealing and surprising as his other books. Readers new to Backman’s work who choose to start with Us Against You should just be patient. It won’t be long before they get caught up in the characters and the story.
For diehard fans of Backman’s work, this is a must-read. I recommend all readers Bookmark Us Against You.