Us Against You (Backman)

Us Against You 
Fredrik Backman, 2018
Atria Books
448 pp.

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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—June 2, 1981
Raised—Helsingborg, Sweden
Education—no degree

Fredrik Backman, Swedish author, journalist, and blogger, was voted Sweden's most successful author in 2013.

Backman grew up in Helsingborg, studied comparative religion but dropped out and became a truck driver instead. When the free newspaper Xtra was launched in 2006, the owner reached out to Backman, then still a truck driver, to write for the paper. After a test article, he continued to write columns for Xtra

In spring 2007, he began writing for Moore Magazine in Stockholm, a year-and-a-half later he began freelancing, and in 2012 he became a writer for the Metro. About his move to writing, Backman said...

I write things. Before I did that I had a real job, but then I happened to come across some information saying there were people out there willing to pay people just to write things about other people, and I thought "surely this must be better than working." And it was, it really was. Not to mention the fact that I can sit down for a living now, which has been great for my major interest in cheese-eating. (From his literary agent's website.)

Backman married in 2009 and became a father the following year. He blogged about preparations for his wedding in "The Wedding Blog" and about becoming a father on "Someone's Dad" blog. During the 2010 Winter Olympics, he wrote the Olympic blog for the Magazine Cafe website and has continued as a permanent blogger for the site.

In 2012, Backman debuted as an author, publishing two books on the same day: a novel, A Man Called Ove (U.S. release in 2014), and a work of nonfiction, Things My Son Needs to Know About the World. His second novel, My Grandmother Sent Me to Tell You She's Sorry, came out in 2013 (U.S. release in 2015). (Adapted from Wikipedia and the publisher. Retrieved 7/23/2014.)

Book Reviews
If Alexander McCall Smith’s and Maeve Binchy’s novels had a love child, the result would be the work of Swedish writer Fredrik Backman.… With his wry acceptance of foible and failure, Backman combines a singular style with a large and compassionate perspective for his characters.… [His] novels have wide appeal, and for good reason. Us Against You takes a lyrical look at how a community heals, how families recover and how individuals grow.
Washington Post

What you get in a Fredrik Backman work is wonderful writing and brilliant insights into things that truly matter—right vs. wrong, fear vs. courage, love vs. hate, the importance and limits of friendship and loyalty, and more. Fredrik Backman is one of the world’s best and most interesting novelists. He is a giant among the world’s great novelists—and this literary giant is still growing.
Washington Times

[Backman] creates an astute emotional world much bigger than a small Swedish town.… A novel you can sink into.
Chicago Tribune

Deftly explores recovery and rebirth.
US Weekly

[E]ngrossing.… Backman’s excellent novel has an atmosphere of both Scandinavian folktale and Greek tragedy. Darkness and grit exist alongside tenderness and levity, creating a blunt realism that brings the setting’s small-town atmosphere to vivid life.
Publishers Weekly

There is even more potential for book group discussion here as Backman explores violence, political maneuvering, communities, feminism, sexuality, criminality, the role of sports in society, and what makes us all tick. —Mary K. Bird-Guilliams, Chicago
Library Journal

[E]vident in all [Backman's] novels is an apparent ability to state a truth about humanity with breathtaking elegance.… Backman plays [his] story for both cynicism and hope, and his skill makes both hard, but not impossible, to resist.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Backman describes the struggle between Beartown and Hed as one between the Bear and the Bull. What does this metaphor represent besides two fearsome animals fighting each other? What do these symbols say about the character of each town?

2. Early in the book, Maya and Ana retreat to a special place far from the rest of Beartown. Read Maya’s song, "The Island" on pp. 59–60. What do you think this little piece of land means to both of them?

3. Kira makes sacrifices so that Peter can be manager of Beartown hockey. Does Peter make sacrifices for his family, too? Discuss the way their relationship changes over the course of the book.

4. Peter tells Ann-Katrin: "I’m afraid the club might demand more from your sons than it can give back to them" (page 155). Bobo, Benji, and Amat must take their place in the world of men when they join the A-team. How does this change force them to grow up? In what ways does it expose their immaturities? What are the different ways each boy tries to fit in with and be accepted by the older players? In the end, are Peter’s fears of what the club will demand of the players justified?

5. People from Hed burn a Beartown Jersey in their town square. This event doesn’t hurt anyone physically, but would you still consider it an act of violence? How does this small symbolic act become amplified and have the power to do so much relational damage?

6. What special challenges do Maya and Ana face as they near adulthood? Do you think two such different girls will be able to maintain their friendship as they head down separate paths?

7. "When we describe how the violence between these two towns started, most of us will no longer remember what came first" (page 46). What do you think the tipping point was? What do you think the novel says about human beings’ innate tendency toward violence?

8. A theme in Us Against You is tribalism versus community. Both dynamics are grounded in a sense of loyalty formed around a shared identity, but what makes them different? How can a strong community become insular and intolerant?

9. Two outsiders come to town, Elisabeth Zackell and Richard Theo. How does each person understand the culture in Beartown, and how do they use that understanding to their individual advantage?

10. "People’s reactions to leadership are always the same: if your decisions benefit me, you’re fair, and if the same decision harms me, you’re a tyrant" (page 197). Are there any characters in Beartown who act against their own self-interest? What do you think are their reasons for doing so?

11. When Ana breaks Benji’s trust and reveals his secret, do you understand her action? Is what she does to Benji made more forgivable because of the circumstances?

12. Retaliation is a constant theme throughout the book. Are there any characters who try to break this cycle of violence? What do you think it takes for this pattern to be broken?

13. Richard Theo says to Peter: "They rule with the help of violence. A democracy can’t allow that. Anyone who becomes powerful because they’ve physically fought their way to the top needs to be opposed" (page 271). Do you agree with Theo? Does Theo rule with the help of violence?

14. Sports has the power to divide and the power to unite. On balance, do you think Beartown would be better off with or without its hockey club?

15. "We will say ‘things like this are no one’s fault,’ but of course they are. Deep down we will know the truth. It’s plenty of people’s fault. Ours" (page 293). Do you agree with this statement, or are their forces outside of the Beartown citizens’ control that are, in part, responsible for the violence?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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