93 pages 3 hours read

Fredrik Backman

Beartown

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2016

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Beartown is a 2017 novel by Fredrik Backman. It is set in the eponymous town and focuses on the local junior hockey team. Set against the backdrop of a depressed town that is obsessed with the sport, it examines themes of parental control, the cost of keeping secrets, loyalty, family, and regret.

The novel unfolds over fifty chapters and is told in brief scenes, with an omniscient narrator occasionally interjecting philosophical maxims and sketching out the backgrounds of many of the characters. A chapter may switch between the third-person viewpoints of a dozen characters, with very few scenes lasting more than two pages.

When the novel opens, the narrator reveals that it is the story of how a teenager put a gun to another teenager’s head and pulled the trigger.

Kevin Erdahl is the star of the junior hockey team. His parents have groomed him obsessively to be a star since childhood, and the town views him as a commodity. Beartown is financially depressed and its citizens live for hockey: the team’s successes and failures are tied to the town’s fortune. If it cannot attract sponsors for the team, there is no money for the economy. The early chapters delineate Kevin’s character and his relationship to his coaches, his teammates, and his parents. They also introduce Peter Andersson, the General Manager, his 15-year old daughter Maya, his wife Kira, and several other characters who will play pivotal roles.

The team manages to win the semifinal games, largely due to the last-minute promotion of a small, poor boy named Amat. Amat had been playing on a younger team until a coach saw how fast he was on the ice. The team needed speed more than anything.

At a victory party after the semifinal, Kevin rapes Maya when she will not have sex with him. Amat has been in love with Maya for years and witnesses the end of the rape. He will eventually testify to the police and become alienated from the team after Kevin is arrested. The rape forces a new set of alliances to be drawn. Kevin’s best friend, Benji, no longer supports him, which hurts Kevin more than anything.

The final game happens while Kevin is under investigation, and the team loses without him, even though they play the best they ever have. Maya is blamed for their loss and she and her father, Peter, become pariahs. Then the rumor begins that Peter is responsible for encouraging Maya to lie, just so the team will lose and he can use that for some vague political advantage. The team’s sponsors withdraw their financial backing and begin to support Hed Hockey Club, the team in the nearest town. The best players will follow David, their coach, to Hed, leaving Beartown without a team.

Kevin’s investigation ends quickly because the police say there is not enough evidence. Maya decides that she will kill Kevin so that she can put the rape behind her. She confronts him with a shotgun as he runs on a jogging track one night, but chooses to spare his life.

As the novel ends, the narrator reveals that Maya has found peace ten years later and is now a famous musician. Many of the Beartown players chose to remain in Beartown and play, since their team was saved by a couple of board members and sponsors who refused to leave.

Maya sees Kevin in a parking lot ten years later, and chooses not to tell the woman he is with (his wife) what happened. She spares him again, although Kevin breaks down and tells his wife everything in the car.

Beartown is a unique coming of age story in that it shows the development of far more youths than many other novels. It is highly recommended for those who are trying to heal from past trauma, advocates for the victims of rape, and anyone who enjoys a vivid novel about small town life.

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