There is a field that librarians discuss called bibliotherapy, the concept being that books can be recommended to help people to heal.

I’m not able to practice this, but I know from personal experience that books have often helped me to process things. I remember a period where I only read chick lit. I realize now that the genre helped me to work through the mistakes I made and the hurts I experienced in my 20s.

For quite a while, all the stresses in my life caused me to gravitate towards books with happy endings, seeking for reassurance that it would all be OK.

Recently I want books with a little more complexity; I want to read something that will help me explore the tougher questions.

“Beartown” by Fredrik Backman explores some of the issues we hear in the news, going more deeply into the thoughts of those going through those experiences and the complexity that can’t be covered in a short news segment.

Beartown is a hockey town in the deep woods of Sweden. The town has been in decline for years, losing jobs and hope, so they cling to all they have left: hockey. The current junior team is the best they’ve ever had. If they win nationals, there is talk of a hockey academy being built in town, bringing jobs and families and reviving the entire community.

Peter returned to town after the death of his oldest son to become the general manager of the team and attempt to keep his family safe. Kevin and Benji are the 17-year-old stars that are supposed to lead the team to victory. They shine on the ice, but face challenging life situations outside of the rink. Amat is a young and determined player who is finally seen for the talent he is, forcing him to make tough decisions about what it means to be a part of a team. The coaches are David, the young and fierce leader that brought the winning team up through the ranks, and Sune, who knows that the sponsors are trying to get him fired after a lifetime of dedication to the sport.

Backman shows how these central players interact with the community: the parents who help and harm the players as they strive to improve; the pack of community members that works behind the scenes to influence the team; the sponsors that call the shots even when they don’t say much “on the record;” and the local bar owner that advises them all.

The hockey team and the entire town are thrown off-course when the star player, Kevin, is arrested for the rape of Peter’s daughter. It is a classic situation of his word vs. hers, and the community lines up to take sides.

Everyone has to decide what they stand for – if they’re willing to win at any cost and what the culture of their town should be. Sune says it best, “For me, culture is as much about what we encourage as what we actually permit.” Is it most important to sacrifice their own values for the team or do they need to sometimes make their own individual decisions? And, most importantly, what is justice and how is it best served?

The character looming in the background is the deep woods of Sweden. The tall trees, snow and ice hide the secrets of the town and isolate them from the rest of the world. The forest is also a place of healing, a place to hide and tend to wounds. The ice is where they play together and build bonds, but it is also an ever-present hazard. The cold is always there in the background, testing their resilience.

“Beartown” is darker than most of Backman’s work, but as we search through the dark forest of difficult questions, there are glimpses of light in characters that hold true to their values and surprising solutions to seemingly impossible situations.

Whatever stage you are at in life, whatever books appeal to you at the moment, Manhattan Public Library can recommend something for you. Try out our Personalized Reading List service from our website,

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