When I picked up this book, it was already too late. Too late to turn back. Even though it would take me a few chapters to really start liking it, it would become a necessity for the next few hours that I read and read and read…and read this story. This story of kind hearts and brave minds. Of seriously misunderstood teens and the chaos within them. Of how it would shape their lives in a matter of a few seasons – whether for good or for bad.
There is nothing but extremes in Beartown. People go all out or they don’t go at all. They love with all their hearts or they just don’t care at all.
A town of winners. And everyone else.
A town where they only understood one religion – Hockey.
But is that really a bad thing? To be able to lose yourself into something even if just for a few minutes that you forget everything else?
Yes. And No.
A girl is raped. She didn’t mean to. It just happened. It wasn’t her fault. But nobody really cared. Or if they did, they didn’t much care to acknowledge it. A girl was raped and all the dominoes came crashing down all around this icy town. A girl was raped and it defined the lives of many, many people…for many, many days to come. A girl was raped and it gave birth to violence, resentment, hatred, depression, competition, and most of all, it gave birth to a reckoning.
When tragedy strikes, we are surprised how it could ever even happen. When hatred simmers in young hearts, we try to locate the source. But more often than not, we forget that it was all in us. Always. The act just paved the way. It just acted as a catalyst for the things to come rushing out that have always been within us, to begin with.
Frederick Backman’s Us Against You deals with human fragility and their strength simultaneously. How a father will make peace with the fact that he couldn’t protect his daughter? How a best friend will collect himself when the person he loved the most turned out to be someone completely different? How certain people will try to take advantage of the chaos. Will they succeed? Will it be a good thing or a bad one if they did?
Beartown is all of these people and every one of them is Beartown. And they live for hockey. They live for becoming something other than who they are. For staying the same. For getting out. For staying put. They will fight until the very end. Until they can fight no more. But then something absolutely terrible will happen. It won’t be enough.
The odds will be stacked against them till the very end.
“Kira Anderson is sitting on the steps outside the little house. waiting for a man who never comes”
It’s also about relationships. With yourself. And others. How delicately you handle them? How much are you willing to sacrifice for them?
Whom do you put first?
Are you selfish? When are you not?
On a macroscopic level, Us Against You is an account of the all-important, all-consuming human pride. All the different flavors of it.
Manipulation at their fingertips.
Sacrifices made to achieve those dreams.
Proving your worth in a town that understands nothing but successive wins. Peter Anderson and his dilemmas. Late-night driving.
A chance to forget about the shame that chance has seen fit to put on him. A chance to prove his worth.
A never-ending process. Because there will always be people who will underestimate you.
The town gleams with it, inside out. Sure there is violence but there is also compassion which can easily be found in two mothers, their love for their children, their devotion to hockey. Its the little things that will make you fall in love with the residents of Beartown – shaving cream filled shoes, an overly sarcastic friend, sisters doing anything they can to keep their brother in line, friends singing and shooting and irritating the hell out of each other, long runs and even longer practices to make sure the one who can do it, does it and doesn’t get off the track. These things will melt you, strike confidence in your heart about these people, get you pumped up for whatever their future will bring. Yes. It will do all those things.
But this story will also do something that every good story does and should – give you hope, give you strength.
”Mistake…just a mistake.”
The one person I always rooted for throughout the book, from the beginning till the end was a boy. An eighteen-year-old boy. This boy is reckless until he isn’t. This boy is harmful until he isn’t. This boy is a beast. Yes. But a beast hiding a fatherless childhood, a brute hiding the fear of non-acceptance. A brother, an uncle, a lover, a friend..he is all those things. If only people could look behind that strong facade. If only the man with the blue collared t-shirt didn’t think of him as just a mistake.
”Just a mistake”
One other thing about the writing that struck me as most beautiful is the amazing use of repetition by Backman throughout the novel. He uses it to tug at our curiosity in just the right amounts and at just the right places. And it may not seem like much right now but when you’ll read it, you’ll understand just how much it adds to the beauty of the story.
In the end, to understand the larger-than-life hearts of the residents of Beartown, you need to read it. You need to let their struggles consume you. They need you. They need you to understand their story. They need to tell it in their own words, horror and all.
Won’t you listen?
“We’ll stand tall if you stand tall”