NOTE: Review may contain spoilers. TW for rape and rape culture.
I finally finished it. I know that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I actually haven’t finished a book since reading Beartown, even though I bought this sequel and started it immediately after. I sat in the parking garage at Capital One arena on New Year’s Eve, waiting to get out, reading this book.
And then I stopped and didn’t pick it up again for six months. So I started it over, and ended up reading it in full in two days. It’s an incredibly good book, if you’re okay reading about the depressing aftermath of rape.
It’s a heavy book.
Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did.Amazon.Com
Have you ever seen a town rise? Ours did that, too.
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 Beartown ice hockey 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. As the tension mounts between the two adversaries, a newcomer arrives who gives Beartown hockey a surprising new coach and 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 challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the town’s enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.
As the big game approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt intensifies. 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—“the Dickens of our age” (Green Valley News)—reveals how loyalty, friendship, and kindness can carry a town through its most challenging days.
Us Against You opens mere months after Beartown, still reeling from the aftermath of what Kevin did to Maya. What Kevin will continue to do for Maya, even though Kevin picks up and runs away from Beartown in the first chapter of the book. Kevin will go on to a new life and never pay for what he did to Maya.
Maya is still paying the price for what Kevin did to her. Amat and Benji are still paying the price for standing up for her. Peter is still paying the price for standing up for his daughter.
Beartown Hockey’s junior team has moved to play in Hed, following Kevin – who is gone – and Beartown Hockey is folding. And the only thing that stands between Beartown Hockey folding is one local politician.
Maybe Us Against You is about changing and growing. Maybe Us Against You is about resisting change and growth. Maybe Us Against You is about making decisions and being forced to face the consequences, whether that means losing all your friends or having the shit beaten out of you.
Us Against You is not about hockey. Us Against You is about politics – the manipulation that keeps a small town afloat, the manipulation that keeps a failing hockey club above water.
Every single detail is orchestrated by someone playing politics, except for the things that aren’t. A twelve-year-old can be set on a path, but can’t be controlled by someone playing politics. Teenage boys can be set on a path, but aren’t controlled by politics.
Not everything goes to plan.
So Us Against You is heavy. The anxiety of waiting – and hoping – that one of your favorite characters won’t commit suicide is very real, the tears I shed throughout the last third of the book were real. The late-night panic of waiting, waiting for everything to progress, for tweeting for someone on your TL you hope has finished the book because you need just one spoiler, you need to know just one thing is going to work out for one person.
Spoiler: maybe no one is happy in the end. It’s human nature to resist change and growth.
There’s a lyric from a Leonard Cohen song – there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. Us Against You is the opposite, down to a quote – “A tiny, almost invisible crack. Where all the darkness gets out.”