Welcome back to Beartown. Us Against You, the latest novel from Fredrik Backman, follows directly the events of his previous book, aptly named Beartown. If you wondered about Peter and Kira’s marriage, Mia’s attempts at healing, or the future of the Pack, here’s your chance to find out.
The story picks up six months after the tragic events of Beartown. Summer has begun to dwindle and a new school year approaches, which means a new season of hockey. But that’s no guarantee for Beartown. Despite the vote to keep Peter Andersson at the helm of the club, many of the players have opted to leave for their better-funded rival in nearby Hed, leaving the future of Beartown hockey in jeopardy. When an ambitious politician finagles funding and installs a surprising choice as the team’s new coach, the club begins to mold itself around its star—Amat.
Before long, Beartown has a team and a scheduled match with Hed, now stacked with former teammates. As the game approaches, tension between the communities boils over, testing friendships and threatening the very lives of certain citizens. It seems that hockey might be more than a game for some after all.
Throughout his writing career, Backman has proven his ability to craft deeply human characters with which readers come to empathize. With Beartown and now Us Against You, he has applied his skill to an entire community. The wounds and tensions of the first book ripple naturally into its sequel. And he pays careful attention to the complexity of environment, surfacing the variety of influences that contribute to the town’s inner pains.
During his U.S. book tour, Backman shared that he likes to use stories as a way of pressing on prejudices, especially those prejudices people don’t think they have. That approach is on display throughout Us Against You, at times less subtle than others. There are moments some readers may consider “preachy,” but they are few and far between. And even when they do appear, they work because Backman filters such instances through the lens of pain.
It’s hard to hate even his most vile characters when confronted with the wounds that drive their secrets. By the end of the book, readers cannot help but consider how they will respond to their own inner pains because we see not simply what his characters do in response, but why they choose the path they take.
Yet for all its bleakness, Us Against You delivers a surprising amount of hope. Beartown’s penchant for violence can be broken and prejudice need not be carved forever in stone. Once again, Backman has crafted a sports tale that pushes sport to the periphery in favor of a grim, hopeful, and human story.
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Building Your Bookshelf
Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman
How could a honeymoon in Bora Bora possibly go wrong? Catherine Steadman will tell you in her much talked about debut novel. Erin and Mark are workaholics, but their commitment looks like it’s about to pay off. Looking for reprieve, they steal away to paradise to celebrate their nuptials and soak up some sun. On a private day trip, they come across something disturbing in the water while scuba diving. There are no other witnesses and they are left to decide whether or not to share what they found. Something in the Water is a smart and savvy thriller, perfect for the end of summer. And as an added treat, Steadman (of Downton Abbey fame) narrates the audio version of the novel for an even more engrossing experience.
Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin
Fresh out of prison, Rice Moore hopes to start over in Virginian Appalachia where he tracks down a job as the overseer of a private forest reserve. His job includes renovating cabins, tracking wildlife, and, best of all, little-to-no human interaction, which is for the best, considering the head of a Mexican cartel wants him dead. When he discovers the carcass of a dead bear on the property, he begins tracking a ring of poachers in the area selling the animal parts on the black market. His investigation sets him at odds with members of the local community and threatens the anonymity he previously enjoyed. Richly atmospheric, Bearskin is a gritty page-turner deserving of attention.
The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
Mokhtar Alkhanshali is on a mission to reintroduce Yemen coffee to the world. Ground black coffee as we know it today began in Yemen before the Dutch and South American smuggled it out of the country creating a worldwide phenomenon. For years, coffee beans were one of Yemen’s biggest exports. However, recent history has stifled the trade as civil war has plagued the Middle East and crippled the Yemen economy. At age twenty-four, Mokhtar discovered the history of Yemen coffee and determined to reinvigorate the industry. Doing so has required dodging bullets, surviving kidnapping, and stealing a boat to cross the Red Sea, but it also led to the founding of Port of Mokha Coffee. Monk of Mokha is a treat for coffee lovers everywhere.