Book Review

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

us against you

I loved Beartown (aka The Scandal) – it was one of my favourite novels of 2017.  I’ll admit that when Us Against You was released, I was somewhat sceptical.  As good as it was, did Beartown really need a sequel?  I bought it anyway, and I can honestly say that yes, it really did need it!

Beartown is dying…

Tucked in a forest in the frozen north, Beartown’s residents are tough and hardworking. They don’t expect life to be easy, but they do expect it to be fair.

Which is why the sudden loss of their hockey players to the rival town of Hed hurts. Everyone needs something to cheer for in the long winter nights. Now they have nothing.

So when a new star player arrives, Coach Peter sees an opportunity to rebuild the team – to take on Hed and restore Beartown’s fortunes. But not everyone in town sees it his way.

As the big game between both towns approaches, the rivalry turns bitter and all too real. Once the stands rumbled with threats to ‘kill’ and ‘ruin’ each other, but the residents didn’t mean it. Now they do.

By the time the last goal is scored, someone in Beartown will be dead…

Us Against You is the story of two towns, two teams and what it means to believe in something bigger than yourself. It’s about how people come together – sometimes in anger, often in sorrow, but also through love. And how, when we stand together, we can bring a town back to life.

Please note that you do need to have read Beartown before reading Us Against You.  This is partly because of its utter brilliance, but also because you need to understand what happened in this small community prior to the events in Us Against You.

 Us Against You picks up the story in the immediate aftermath of the events of Beartown.  Kevin Erdahl has left, and while you might expect this to make things easier for Maya, it doesn’t prove to be the case.  This is very much a town of divided loyalties, with some siding with Maya, and others disappointed at losing their young hockey star.  With this comes the announcement that only one of the local hockey teams can be supported financially, and that the money is going to the rival town of Hed.  With jobs being cut, things don’t look good for Beartown.  That is until a local politician starts to pull a few strings.  I have mixed views on Richard Theo.  On one hand, he is trying to save Beartown and its ice hockey team, and he finds a coach, sponsorship, and new investment for the town.  But it’s all a means to an end for him, and he’s largely unconcerned about the outcome for anyone other than himself.  Backman so neatly captures the nature of ruthlessness in this character that it’s a little chilling, and I was relieved that he was on Beartown’s side.

I absolutely love this town and (the majority of) the characters.  Maya, Ana, Benji, Amat – it’s a cliché, but reading Us Against You was a little like catching up with old friends that I hadn’t seen for a while.  Each character has their ups and downs in this novel, and there are moments that had me smiling, as well as those moments where tears threatened.  Even the characters who take a smaller role in the narrative are so wonderfully portrayed that no one feels like a minor character here.  The novel shifts between perspectives, giving a view of what all of the characters are up to, rather than focussing on one or two, and it gives the reader a real sense of the town and the problems faced as well as exploring individual trials.  And even those characters who maybe aren’t as likeable have their role to play in the events of this novel.  I also enjoyed finding out more about “the Pack” in Us Against You.  A small faction in Beartown, the reader finds out more about their actions and motives in this follow up, and it makes things clearer, as well as adding some intrigue!

A lot of the novel, and Beartown before it, focusses on ice hockey.  It’s the main sport for the community, and largely everyone who lives there follows the sport to some degree.  That said, this isn’t a book about sport, it just happens that this is what unites the community and brings them together.  Rather, it’s a novel about people and about human nature.  Backman writes with such a deft touch, keeping the characters realistic and making the reader care about their fates.  I’ll admit that, as an ice hockey fan, those elements are good too though!

So, despite my initial scepticism, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and, of course, I wish I’d read it earlier.  I really can’t recommend these two novels enough.

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