Fredrik Backman

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Beartown can help.

One evening in late March, a teenager walks into the forest, puts a shotgun to another teenager’s forehead, and pulls the trigger.

In early March, in the small town of Beartown, Sweden, everyone anticipates tomorrow’s semifinal hockey game in the national youth tournament. Beartown’s fortunes have been declining for years, with the town losing jobs, people, and even its position in the hockey standings. Now, thanks to a 17-year-old star, the wealthy Kevin Erdahl, their junior team finally has a chance at a title. A victory tomorrow could lead to a major economic reversal for the town.

The president of Beartown’s hockey club is planning to fire the longtime A-team coach, Sune, and he’s going to make General Manager Peter Andersson break the news, even though Peter idolizes Sune. Peter grew up in Beartown, became an NHL star in Canada, and returned to his hometown along with his wife, Kira, and his daughter, Maya, after their son, Isak, died of a childhood illness.

Sune discovered and mentored both Peter and David, who’s the coach of the junior team. Sune is being replaced by David because the club hierarchy and sponsors prefer David’s winning-obsessed coaching methods, whereas Sune prefers letting players develop gradually and encouraging them to play with heart. In particular, Sune refuses to promote Kevin to the A-team, believing he doesn’t yet have the requisite maturity. He believes that hockey is about more than producing “boys who never lose.”

On the eve of the semifinal, even Sune admits that the Bears are lacking something—namely speed. He notices 15-year-old Amat, a player on the boys’ team, practicing sprints on the ice, and he urges David to consider the boy for tomorrow’s game. Amat grew up in the poor section of town with a single mother, Fatima; despite being much smaller than his teammates, he has immense natural talent. That afternoon, David invites Amat to the juniors’ practice. The juniors bully Amat, and David subjects him to a cruel one-on-one training exercise against a massive player, Bobo. However, Amat refuses to give up and is allowed to play in the semifinal.

Maya Andersson has a crush on Kevin, and Amat has a crush on Maya. While Maya and her best friend, Ana, are goofing around at the rink before the game, Amat approaches them and shyly attempts to ask Maya out, but Kevin smoothly preempts him, inviting Maya to the party at his house that evening. The Bears go on to win the semifinal in spectacular fashion, sending the town into raucous celebration.

The party at Kevin’s house is filled with drunken teenagers. Maya soon gets drunk with Kevin, and Kevin quietly makes a bet with his friend Lyt that he’ll be able to sleep with the General Manager’s daughter. Maya accompanies Kevin to his bedroom and kisses him, but he rapes her a short time later. Amat, meanwhile, has wandered upstairs in search of Maya; hearing sounds of a struggle from Kevin’s room, he opens the door and sees everything, interrupting the assault. Maya flees the party and later destroys all evidence of the rape.

With Ana’s encouragement, Maya decides to tell her parents what happened the following Saturday, right before the hockey final. Kevin is arrested just before the team departs for the game in the capital. Though the Bears put up a fierce fight even without Kevin, they ultimately lose. Later that night, news gets around regarding Maya’s accusation, and most people in the town turn ferociously against her. They claim that she’s lying, that she wanted to sleep with Kevin, and that the accusation was deliberately timed so as to throw off the Bears’ final game. Maya insists on going to school on Monday, even though she’s ostracized and bullied by her peers. Meanwhile, most of the hockey players band together in support of Kevin, and his father, Mr. Erdahl, begins mobilizing sponsors and other hockey club supporters against Peter Andersson.

Mr. Erdahl talks to Amat and tells him that he didn’t see what he thought he saw at Kevin’s party. He also offers Amat’s mom a better job and money for expensive new skates in exchange for Amat’s silence. Amat drops the money on the ground.

The hockey club holds a meeting to vote on firing Peter as General Manager. Teammate Lyt tries to intimidate Amat into joining the team outside the rink in order to show support for Kevin. When Amat arrives, however, he barges into the meeting and courageously reveals everything he saw at the party. Ramona, who runs the Bearskin pub and is a beloved local fixture, influences many people, including a group of ruffian hockey fans known as The Pack, to vote in Peter’s favor, and he doesn’t lose his GM job. It’s later revealed that David has given notice and will move to the nearby city of Hed to coach the better-endowed professional team there, taking many of Beartown’s best junior players with him. Sune will remain in Beartown as the A-team coach.

Amat’s teammates beat him up for his disloyalty, and they also beat up Bobo, who has become Amat’s friend and stands up for him at the last minute. A watching member of The Pack disrupts the violence and also returns the money Amat had dropped. Amat later uses the money to buy Maya a new guitar.

The rape case against Kevin is dismissed because of a supposed lack of sufficient evidence. Soon after, Maya takes a shotgun belonging to Ana’s father and surprises Kevin while he’s jogging. She holds the gun to Kevin’s head and makes him believe she’s going to kill him, though the gun is never actually loaded. She finds a measure of justice in the knowledge that, like her, Kevin will now be afraid of the dark for the rest of his life.

After the season ends, Sune helps start a girls’ hockey team in Beartown—a first step toward challenging the town’s sexist hockey culture. Amat, Bobo, and some of the others who remained in Beartown help teach the little kids. One of those kids, a four-year-old girl from an abusive home, will find refuge on the ice and become the most talented hockey star Beartown has ever seen.