It's only appropriate that I finish a book on my birthday and write about it. Though this blog is about nonfiction sports, I am going to admit that the book I finished was sports fiction. But it's my blog, I make the rules, and most likely I'm the only one that reads it!! If a tree falls in the forest, does nobody hears it,does it make a sound? Correct, so I will tell you about the book I finished.
Beartown by Frederik Backman called to me like the mysterious, lonely forest that the novel is set in. I'm a sucker for small town stories, and I'm a sucker for small town stories that center around sports. Every small town sports team is interwoven more intricately into the fabric of the community than any other place. You'd have to live in one to get it. I spent some time in small towns coaching, and I can promise you that every ounce of the drama is genuinely true.
Beartown has a youth hockey program. The players are spawned out of the womb of the town itself. The town lives and breathes with every match. Players are local heroes. Teammates are brothers. Legends lurk around every corner. Coaches are fathers by proxy. Dreams that have died in parents are rekindled in their sons. The good of the club comes before anything else. This arc is traced in any book about a youth sports team.
But what happens when adversity hits. Not the winning or losing kind--those wounds heal with time. There's always next year. No, these are wounds caused by crimes of human nature. Sometimes teenagers act like adults and commit adult crimes. Sometimes adults act like children. This book has some of both. At it's heart, the book is about a youth hockey club that is not only beloved by it's community, but as in many small town sports stories, the survival of the community itself is pinned on the success of the club. These two things cannot be separated. Since the club is the heart of Beartown, then all of it's arteries connect the people, families, and businesses of the community. Lack of blood flow will kill the entire body. So in that way, Backman's book is a cautionary tale for all of us, adults to children.
Why should a teen library get this book? Sometimes the egos of small town teen heroes can outgrow the immature bodies they are housed in. Sometimes they do bad things- like, say, push sexual advances too far. They do this because they feel that they are not only above the law of their parents, but emboldened by those that worship them(the town) to claim what they feel is rightfully theirs. Most often it is boys. Sadly. In this way, the book is a somber tale for those small town athletes to highlight what can happen when you get too big for your britches. Lives can literally change in an instant and some decisions, no matter how small they may seem, can have dire consequences and hurt the most unintended people.
I would have my teenage son read this book--I really would. It would be a great discussion starter for some pretty hard and important life talks with him. Beartown: A tale every young man should heed.