Friday, 29 June 2018

Book Review: US AGAINST YOU by Fredrik Backman

Author: Fredrik Backman
Publisher: Atria Books
Read: June 2018
Expected publication: out now

"It’s a simple game, if you strip away all the crap surrounding it, and keep all the things that made us love it in the first place. Everyone gets a stick. Two nets. Two teams. Us against you."

Book Description:

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 musings:

OMG – this book! I laughed, I cried, I threw it down in disgust. After the emotional roller coaster ride that was Beartown, I had expected no less, and this is exactly what I got – it broke my heart 1000 times over and yet left me wanting more!

Us Against You pretty much picks up the story where Beartown left off. Kevin’s family have left town, leaving a town divided and their hockey club under threat, whilst Maya and her family are trying to pick up the pieces and get back to a normal life. I was happy to see that all of the characters of Beartown are back in this novel, and by now they feel like people I have known all my life!

Backman has a very unique writing style like no other. Telling his story in short, snappy paragraphs that don’t necessarily relate to one another, he somehow manages to weave all the threads together and create an utterly addictive, emotionally charged story that wormed its way right into my heart. There are a lot of characters in this book, and yet he captures the essence of each of them so perfectly that they emerge as vivid personalities in the readers’ mind. I don’t know of many authors that manage to do this with such finesse. Perhaps it is the very glimpses into the hearts and souls of his characters Backman chooses to divulge that bring these people to life. Also, there are always too sides to every person, which I loved. The corrupt politician, who also loves his nephew and calls him every night to read him a bedtime story. The honest, stand-up citizen who never tells a lie but who is also “a bit of an ass”. The “Pack”, who may be the criminal element of the town but who make sure that people receive help in their times of need and who stand up for each other like family. And so many more! It’s never black and white with Backman’s characters, just like real life. If there is one take-home message from his novels for me, it is this – there are always different sides to every person, so don’t be too quick to judge.

From the very first page, there was a foreshadowing of something terrible to come. Some mystery writers could take lessons from this author on how to ratchet up tension, because he does it so effortlessly. My heart was pounding and I did not realise how anxious I felt until someone else commented on it. Firstly, there was the constant banging (“bang, bang, bang, bang!”) that echoed through the town. On audio, this made my hair stand on end. Then there is the foreshadowing Backman uses, like seasoning strewn into the story, that gives small hints of things to come. I have never seen this done so effectively in a novel, and think that only Backman can pull this off without sounding contrived.

Then there is hockey. As a total non sport-watching person I neither understand the game nor have ever had any real interest in it, until now. Get me to a game and I will cheer with the rest! To be honest, whilst hockey is a central part of the novel, you could apply the essence of it to any other sport where teams compete to win. The conflict and competition between Beartown and Hed is described beautifully and forms a major part of the plot, leading to the events that follow. It symbolises the best and the worst of human nature, and Backman excels in using his characters to point these out to the reader. There is a lot more politics in this novel than Beartown, with corrupt politicians being involved in the Club’s fate, which formed a central part of the story and was quite an eye-opener to me (it also made me angry). 


I could go on and on about the greatness of this book and all the parts I enjoyed, but we would be here all day. So do yourself a favour and just read it! Prepare yourself to have your heart broken. I cried a few times and expected no less. Beartown was my favourite book of 2017, and this one will undoubtedly be amongst my favourite reads this year. I cannot wait for the sequel, to see all these beloved characters back again and find out how they fared. All the feels from me!

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