Back in 2017 I was excited to read Beartown by Fredrick Backman, in part due to it exploring the events surrounding a community for whom ice hockey is an important part of their lives. And this was a book I really enjoyed, so I was excited to find out about Us Against You, a second book set in Beartown which follows on from the surprising events in the first instalment. But as I read on it became apparent that life for the residents does not get any easier, and there are tough times ahead…
‘Sometimes people have to be allowed to have something to live for in order to survive everything else.’
Whilst I think it would be beneficial to read Beartown before reading Us Against You, the opening pages do offer something of a recap and an introduction to this community. So despite having read the first book eighteen months ago, the key moments soon came back to me as I was reading. This included the aftermath of an event which left the residents in shock, something which has had a lasting impact on the families involved, as well as the wider community. The importance of ice hockey in Beartown is emphasised throughout, as something which brings people together, giving them something to cheer when life gets more difficult for this remote town, and the hardworking residents who reside there. So when some of their players are lost to the rival town of Hed, this reignites a bitter rivalry between the two towns, which only gets worse as the big game approaches. But whilst the events in this story revolve around this hockey rivalry, this is ultimately a story about people, the differences they have, but the way in which they can come together in the face of adversity.
As I am a fan of ice hockey, this layer of the story added extra interest for me, but even if you are not a fan of hockey or sports in general, there is plenty to be taken from this book. One thing I enjoyed in Beartown which is present again here is the quality of the character development. I was drawn into the lives of these characters and the challenges they faced and given the nature of some of the events that occurred that previous summer it’s a story that has you rooting for them as their lives are in danger of being torn apart. Given the fact that events take place in a relatively small community, this also creates a claustrophobic atmosphere, as everyone knows everyone and everything, making it hard to move forward when troubled by past events, and the way it continues to have an impact each day. And also as the town is tucked away in a forest in the frozen north, as residents look forward to the big hockey game, this is a great book to read on a cold winters evening, with its chilling and atmospheric setting. And I was gripped by the stories of these residents, as events build up, and take an even more dramatic turn.
As with Beartown, Us Against You is a compelling, well crafted story which follows the lives of two teams, and the two towns who cheer for them. It is also a vivid and atmospheric story which is filled with love and hate, with grief and anger, but also a feeling of hope, as a struggling town is given life.