Book #10 & #11 : Bear Town and Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

Author Fredrik Backman is Swedish. His novel, Beartown, and its sequel, Us Against You, are set in a small, rural hockey town in Sweden. These books were written a continent away from Buena Vista, Colorado, in words that required translating for me to read. How does this story feels so close to home?! The names, the sport, the extreme circumstances aren’t the same, but the small town, the characters, the kids, the rivalry are familiar enough.

Backman is a word-smithing master craftsman in any language. Here’s a review in his words:

“The love a parent feels for a child is strange. There is a starting point to our love for everyone else, but not this person. This one we have always loved, we loved them before they even existed. No matter how well prepared they are, all moms and dads experience a moment of total shock, when the tidal wave of feelings first washed through them, knocking them off their feet. It’s incomprehensible because there’s nothing to compare it to. It’s like trying to describe sand between your toes or snowflakes on your tongue to someone who’s lived their whole life in a dark room. It sends the soul flying.” Beartown

“There are two things that are particularly good at reminding us how old we are: children and sports.” Beartown

“You never have the sort of friends you have when you’re fifteen ever again. Even if you keep them for the rest of your life, it’s never the same as it was then.” Beartown

“The very worst events in life have that effect on a family: we always remember, more sharply than anything else, the last happy moments before everything fell apart.” Beartown

“Everyone has a thousand wishes before a tragedy, but just one afterward.” Beartown

“Being a parent makes you feel like a blanket that’s always too small. No matter how hard you try to cover everyone, there’s always someone who’s freezing.” Beartown

“If you spend your whole life being someone else, who will be you?” Beartown 

“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes much easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.” Beartown

“It’s only a game. It only resolves tiny, insignificant things. Such as who gets validation. Who gets listened to. It allocates power and draws boundaries and turns some people into stars and others into spectators. That’s all.” Beartown

“Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did. We’ll end up saying the violence came to Beartown this summer, but that will be a lie; the violence was already here. Because sometimes hating one another is so easy that it seems incomprehensible that we ever do anything else.” Us Against You

“What does it take to be a good parent? Not much. Just everything. Absolutely everything.” Us Against You

“Anxiety. It’s such a peculiar thing. Almost everyone knows what it feels like, yet none of us can describe it. Maya looks at herself in the mirror, wonders why it can’t be seen on the outside. Not even on x-rays – how does that work? How can something that bangs away at us so horribly hard on the inside not show up on the pictures as black scars, scorched into our skeletons? How can the pain she feels not be visible in the mirror?” Us Against You

“It’s so easy to get people to hate one another. That’s what makes love so impossible to understand. Hate is so simple that it always ought to win. It’s an uneven fight.” Us Against You

“The path back to normal life is indescribably long once death has swept the feet out from under those of us who are left. Grief is a wild animal that drags us so far out into the darkness that we can’t imagine ever getting home again. Ever laughing again. It hurts in such a way that you can never really figure out if it actually passes or if you just get used to it.” Use Against You

“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” Us Against You

“I wish you courage
I which you rushing blood

A heart that beats too hard
Feelings that make everything too hard Love that gets out of control
The most intense adventures
I hope you find your way out
I hope you’re the kind of person
Who gets a happy ending” Us Against You

Paul Sweeney said, “You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.” That’s how I felt after reading both of these books, like I lost a few friends.