Of Beer and Black Jackets

The Winners

by Fredrik Backman

The third and final installment of Fredrik Backman’s Beartown series is here, and it did not disappoint. This nearly 600-page behemoth wraps up the trilogy by taking us back to the small, isolated forest town nearly two years after the events of the first two books.

The most important thing to note about The Winners is that it is NOT a standalone book. You really need to read the first two books in order to understand the depth of what is going on. With that being said, I’ve rated all three books in this series five stars, and I don’t even like hockey. Anything by Fredrik Backman is an automatic buy for me, so if you haven’t checked out his other work, I recommend you do so.

I know what you’re thinking….”Did she say hockey?” Yes, everything in this book revolves around hockey. Beartown is a remote, northern forest town that revolves around its hockey teams. The neighboring town of Hed is their arch rivals, and things get pretty violent when the teams play. In the first novel, Maya, the daughter of Beartown’s general manager, Peter Andersson, gets raped by Beartown’s star hockey player, Kevin. The rape was initially covered up, Peter was fired as general manager, and Maya’s life was ruined. The town finally accepted that Maya was telling the truth when Amat, one of the other players from the team, came forward and admitted that he saw it happen. The second book in the series ends with Maya getting a semblance of justice and then leaving for college. Benji, who was Kevin’s best friend and protector, also realizes that Kevin was guilty. Benji had a reputation for being dangerous and a bit crazy. At the end of the book, the town finds out that Benji is gay. Facing fierce bigotry and ridicule, he also runs away.

The Winners opens with Maya at college and Benji traveling the world. Both of them have been unable to find a version of happiness for themselves and live as perpetual outsiders. Then, Romana, the owner of Beartown’s pub, dies, and Benji and Maya return to their hometown for the funeral. Maya reconnects with her best friend, Ana, and Benji basks in the friendship of the girls and his old teammates, Amat and Bobo. Amat and Bobo also bring the team’s goalie, Mumble, with them. Since the last book, Amat has become a star. He traveled to America over the summer to try out for the NHL, but in the weeks leading up to the trip turned to drugs and gangsters to escape the fear of failure. He was not drafted and was so embarrassed that he quit Beartown’s team. Amat’s path to redemption is one of the highlights of the book.

While Maya is reliving her pain, she is unaware that there is another 14-year-old boy watching her from the shadows. Matteo symbolizes Maya’s alternate universe, and both Beartown and Hed will never be the same.

One of the things that makes The Winners (and the whole Beartown series) charming is that Backman reveals how the book will end almost from the beginning. With the spoilers in hand, the reader can sit back and watch the journey unfold. You fall in love with the passion, the pain, and the persistence of each character, and it’s hard to root against anyone. Humans are humans. Sometimes the most moral among us can act seriously flawed, and sometimes the most abhorrent personalities can do great kindness. It is where you decide to spend the most time that defines your life. At its root, The Winners is about love. Many of the characters have treacherous and difficult upbringings. But, the ones who have a loving support system behind them, even if they don’t necessarily ask for the one they have, make it through.

With that being said, do yourself a favor and sit by an emergency exit every time you watch a hockey match between Beartown and Hed, You’re probably going to need it.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I love to cook, but I love sharing my love of reading even more. One day, I had the idea to pair each review with a recipe that matches the book in some way. In The Winners, Peter is miserable as he tries to discover who he is outside of hockey. He spends a lot of his free time baking bread. There’s also a lot of casual beer drinking throughout the book, so what better recipe match can their be than garlic cheddar beer bread? Click on the picture below to view the recipe from The Chunky Chef.

My Rating System Explained

5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️:  This was an amazing book, and I can't stop thinking about it.   It impacted me emotionally or changed my perspective.  My thoughts keep flickering back to it at random times throughout the day.  I will absolutely recommend it to my friends or to one of my book clubs.

4 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️:  This was a really good book.  Parts of it stuck with me, and I might mention it in a conversation.  There is a high likelihood that I will recommend it to my friends or to one of my book clubs.

3 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️:  I liked this book.  It allowed me to escape from reality for a while.  While I might tell somebody about it if I think it will interest them, I will probably not suggest it to one of my book clubs.

2 Stars ⭐️⭐️:  There's something about this book that I didn't like.  I wasn't willing to go all the way down to a one-star rating, but I'm definitely not digging it.  I may recognize that this book is not for me, but it might be for other people.  I will not recommend it to my friends or one of my book clubs.

1 Star ⭐️:  My rarest rating.  I really didn't like this book.  Something in the story line upset me, and I probably "hate-read" the majority of the book.  Not only will I not recommend it, but I will actively tell people that I did not like it.

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