June Book Review - 'Us Against You' by Fredrik Backman

Jun 13, 2019

You could say that Us Against You is a sports story about a hockey town and its team and you wouldn't be wrong, but it is about so much more.

Since his debut novel A Man Called Ove, written and published in 2014, Fredrik Backman cranked out one a year -   the last two being Beartown and Us Against You.

Beartown introduces us to a small town, tucked in a forest where hardworking citizens have little to look forward to except the surprise success of their beloved junior hockey team. They are poised to play in the National semi-finals. The entire town is united in hope until an incident deeply divides them. 

Us Against You picks up the drama and propels it forward. The cast of characters is long and the issues they deal with are complicated. There are economic crises, relationship difficulties, critical career choices, political intrigue, inter-city rivalries, power struggles, death, grief, heartache, heartbreak, healing and hockey, hockey, hockey.

But it's more than hockey as a game, it's hockey as a metaphor for life and as an escape from life.

Backman skillfully gets into the heads and hearts of his characters. He admits he's never done anything harder than try to write from Maya's perspective, a young woman who is central to the plot.  In light of the #MeToo Movement he felt the responsibility to get it right. “The only way I could do it was to talk to a lot of people who have been through a similar experience. So I talked to a lot of Mayas.”  He eventually decided not to write from Maya's point of view but rather from everyone else's. “I couldn’t put myself in her shoes. It would have been disrespectful and stupid.” One of his powerful observations was how rape is always referred to in past tense, "she was raped,” when in reality, for many victims like Maya, the act is past, present and future. It never really stops.

I easily imagined this story taking place in a rural town in a mid-western state with a local politician manipulating those around him without regard for consequences or collateral damage. Then, the author mentioned getting paid in “Kroners” and I remembered, he’s a Swedish novelist writing about a Swedish town. Perhaps political maneuvering is less than admirable in countries other than the USA. 

Us Against You shows us life isn't always easy. It isn't supposed to be. Us Against You and other Fredrik Backman books can be found at our local libraries. For KPCW, this is Barb Bretz.