Us Against You brings us back to Beartown, the town where Backman's previous novel of the same name is set. Beartown is a hockey town. Hockey means everything, but it also means different things to the various residents of Beartown: the past, the future, identity, escape, belonging. Now, in the aftermath of a rape committed by its star player and a defection by the majority of the team to neighboring Hed, it also means divisiveness. And violence.
As the rivalry grows more intense, Beartown fights to keep its team alive and the face-offs happen both on and off the ice.
While some stories have an easy villain, this isn't one of them. While Backman builds the tension, he also shows the humanity behind every person involved. I'm a sucker for this type of thing, so it worked for me--I love getting small insights into tertiary characters.
Even so, there were moments where the "showing the good side" of every character felt a little overdone. This and the many nameless characters who nonetheless kept showing up (which felt like it conflicted with Backman's impulse to give stories to side characters) were my only complaints about Us Against You.
Beartown is not a place where I would want to live, but Backman infuses it with such soul that I will always want to visit. If he returns to it, so will I.
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A small community tucked deep in the forest, Beartown is home to tough, hardworking people who don’t expect life to be easy or fair. No matter how difficult times get, they’ve always been able to take pride in their local ice hockey team. So it’s a cruel blow when they hear that their town’s ice hockey club might soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in the neighboring town of Hed, take in that fact. But the arrival of a newcomer gives Beartown hockey a chance at a comeback.
Soon a team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; always dutiful and eager-to-please Bobo; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a huge challenge, especially as the town’s enmity with Hed grows more and more acute as the big game approaches.
By the time the last goal is scored, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after everything, the game they love can ever return to something as simple and innocent as a field of ice, two nets, and two teams. Us against you.
Here is a declaration of love for all the big and small, bright and dark stories that give form and color to our communities. With immense compassion and insight, Fredrik Backman reveals how loyalty, friendship, and kindness can carry a town through its most challenging days.