4.5 / 5 Stars
Off to a slow start - but blimey, talk about a game of two halves!
I'd read the rave reviews for this book, so was delighted to be approved for an ARC. However, I'll be honest; 30% in, I wasn't feeling it. It wasn't that the writing wasn't top quality... it was. It's just that the story didn't seem to be going anywhere.
Then, at around 40% in, it suddenly did a full 180 degree turn, and became utterly unputdownable.
It starts with a gun to the head - but no further information is given. Then for the next hundred and fifty-odd pages, the focus is on setting the scene, and introducing the wide cast of characters. In Beartown, all anyone cares about is ice hockey - the junior team in particular. They've got a huge game coming up, and the entire town is focused on supporting them to victory.
In addition to the team's leader, Kevin (the boy who doesn't know what losing is) and his best friend Benji (a tough kid with a great heart), there's also several other key characters. Maya is 15 and in love with her music. Her best friend Ana is more the eccentric type. We've also got all their parents, plus other important bit parts - Ramona, who runs the bar, Benji's older sisters, and Jeanette, the teacher.
And that's pretty much all that happens in the first third of the book - we learn about their characters and their lives; hence I started scratching my head and wondering what all the fuss was about. Then, a seismic incident happens at an after-match party, which changes everything. Suddenly, the entire town is at war with each other, and the ugly side of people's personalities comes to the foreground.
That's precisely what's so freaking brilliant about this book; it is an exquisite study of people under pressure, and their natural reactions to bad situations. It's about selfishness, ambition and deception - but even more impressive, it's about the entire culture of Beartown, and how it's contributed to the problem. Without giving too much away, the 'locker-room banter' which seemed so harmless at the start of the book, suddenly takes on a far darker meaning; and the attitudes of the men (and some women) are pulled sharply into scrutiny.
I'd recommend this book, without a doubt. Be prepared for a slow start; but persevere with it. It really is worth it!