Us Against You

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Fredrik Backman
Genres: Fiction
Read: Mar. 2018 (Pub date: Jun. 5, 2018 in North America)

Thank you to Atria Books, Simon and Schuster, and Netgalley for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As some people might be aware (because I can’t stop talking about it), Beartown was my favourite book of 2017, so I was super happy to get an advance copy of the sequel, Us Against You, and I even re-read Beartown to get back up to speed on all the characters. I loved Beartown just as much the second time around, but I was really nervous about this one because I didn’t think Beartown really needed a sequel and it’s easy to kill a good thing milking the cash cow too long.

Disclaimer: Beartown spoilers below plus minor spoilers for Us Against You, but nothing you don’t learn early in the story.

Us Against You starts where Beartown leaves off. It’s summer, but everyone is anxiously awaiting to see what will happen to their beloved hockey team in the fall and Peter is worried that there may not even be a hockey club to be anxious about. Kevin and his family disappear overnight, but Maya’s family decides to stay. Beartown is their town as much as anyone else’s and they believe they shouldn’t be made to feel unwelcome.

Most of the former Junior team has followed their coach David to Hed, but Amat, Bobo, and Benji remain behind in Beartown. In the absence of the former team and coach, several newcomers arrive on the scene and hockey and politics become more intertwined than ever.

Fredrik Backman’s writing is just as beautiful as ever in this book. The novel continues in the same voice as its predecessor and it is just as lyrical and insightful. My copy of Beartown is tabbed everywhere with quotes that I loved and I tabbed a lot of well written passages in this book as well. But sadly, some parts of this book just didn’t work for me.

As a standalone, Beartown offers a varied perspective of the plot. Backman takes us on a journey with his characters and their perspectives are all incredibly moving. Beartown is very much a character driven book, but it still had a strong plot to carry it forward. Us Against You is still a character driven novel, but the plot isn’t as strong and it struggled to carry all these voices.

The plot is slower than Beartown and there is a lot of political drama that is just too convoluted and honestly, doesn’t even really matter that much. Backman tells us in the synopsis that before the end of the novel someone will be dead, and he builds his plot around this climax. The drama builds between Hed and Beartown and hate and violence lead to more hate and violence, culminating in tragedy for everyone.

Backman continues with some of the themes from Beartown, examining the long-lasting impact that rape can have on a girl and her family, and the sense of community that comes from a shared love of sports. Backman also explores the compounding impact of violence and our resistance to change. Hockey has always been seen as a men’s club and those men can feel very threatened when faced with equality politics and will try and protect themselves at the expense of anyone who does not fit within their idea of who hockey is for.

So I very much loved the themes of this book, but I struggled more with the perspectives. We’re given a lot of new perspectives in this book, which is great, but we also lose a lot of the perspectives from the previous book of characters we’ve already come to know and love. I really liked that this book expanded to include Maya’s brother Leo and more of William Lyt, but it also included a lot about the Pack and this is where it got bogged down for me. I wasn’t really interested in Peter’s feud with the Pack or with Richard Theo’s schemes. Richard Theo serves to mount the tension within the towns, but I don’t think he was needed. His schemes were too convoluted and the characters could have carried the plot without him. Hed and Beartown would have been at each other’s throats, regardless of the drama with the factory jobs and the political scheming.

I thought the novel had a great start with William and Leo fighting and the breakdown of the Andersson Family. I thought Kira and Peter’s storyline was so heartbreaking, but it felt so real and I could empathize with how the strain of losing your firstborn and your daughter being raped would slowly start to breakdown your marriage. Likewise, I love where Backman takes us with Maya, Ana, and Benji in this book. Benji was one of my favourite characters in Beartown and you just ache for him reading his story. He is one of those totally perfect, imperfect characters. I thought all of these storylines were strong and they really carried the novel for me.

But like I said, I struggled with the Pack. I didn’t care about Teemu and I thought Vidar came in too late into the story for me to really care about him either. I get what the Pack means to Teemu, Woody, Spider, and Vidar, but I think Backman communicates this concept of family and community just as well through his other characters. Likewise, the Pack served to escalate the violence between Hed and Beartown, but again, I think this theme could have been carried just as well through other characters like Lyt. I really liked the idea of Vidar and I’m thrilled Backman decided to spend some time on the goalie, which is an essential part of any team, but Vidar lacked developed at the expense of the rest of the Pack. I would rather see his character fully realized than have all the secondary Pack characters.

I am disappointed that David didn’t have a voice in this story and that Amat and Bobo’s voices were limited. I really liked all of these characters and I really think Backman could have given them more in this story. We hear very little from the Beartown players who switch to Hed. They go to Hed to play for David, not Hed and I would have liked to hear more about how they felt about suddenly playing for their rival and the struggle of losing the support of their community. It’s kind of taken for granted that the boys and their families would all just change allegiance to Hed (and that Hed would accept them), but they were all Beartown born and still lived there, so I felt that suddenly playing for their rival would be a real source of conflict for some of the players and that they would struggle to be accepted by Hed and the other members of the existing A-team.

My biggest struggle with this book though is the emotional pacing. I felt this book was more emotionally manipulative than the first book and the writing started to feel a little repetitive. Beartown is an incredibly powerful, emotional read and Backman uses a lot of the same phrases and wording to try and create those cathartic moments, but they lose their impact when you read them 3 and 4 times throughout the novel.

This book is just damn depressing. Like I said, Beartown is definitely an emotional read, but it still has hopeful and happy moments to contrast the sad ones. Us Against You has very few hopeful moments. It is just down, down, down for the entire novel and any happy or hopeful plot points are just too small to bring this book back up. I felt like I was falling into the pits of despair throughout the whole book and I never had any chance of climbing back out.

We’re told in Beartown that 2 of the boys will turn professional and that the young girl, Alicia, will grow up to be the best hockey player Beartown has ever seen. So I can’t help but assume that Beartown must succeed at some point for these players to achieve success and I want to read about it! I don’t know if Backman has a third book planned for this series, but I could see this having another book and I really hope it does because I need to see Beartown transformed. I’ve seen them beaten down and shit on and now I need to see them heal and grow. I didn’t think Beartown needed a sequel, but now that it has one, I really need it to be a trilogy so that this can be the dark middle book. This works as the angst-y middle book, but not as the finale. This story feels unfinished and I really hope it gets a (better) conclusion.

For this reason it’s a hard book to rate. Granted, I am holding Backman to a higher standard because of how phenomenal Beartown was, and I still loved the writing and several of the character arcs in Us Against You, but I need more from this series now! I think there’s a lot of potential for a final book and if that is the case, it would change my review. I don’t mind being brought low in book 2 if you’re going to raise me up in book 3. But if this is where it ends, I am definitely left disappointed.

FYI, you can pre-order Us Against You at


The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore






Author: Kim Fu
Genres: Fiction
Read: Mar. 2018

Thank you to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This was a really interesting read. The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore just came out in February and it already has a bit of a lowish rating on goodreads, which is usually a deterrent for me, but I’m obsessed with camping and I was really intrigued by the premise, so I decided to go ahead with it anyways.

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore tells the story of 5 girls around ages 10-12 who attend a sleep-away camp in Washington State. The girls are from all over the region, including British Columbia. The highlight of the camp is supposed to be an overnight kayaking trip to a remote island, but this kayak trip goes horribly awry and leaves the girls stranded on an island. The book tells the story of what happened to the girls, while simultaneously flashing forward in each of the girls lives to see how they later fared.

The structure of this story was really interesting. Throughout the main story of what happened at Camp Forevermore, we get a short story for each of the girls future lives. These stories don’t really reference what happened at camp and in my opinion could each be viewed as separate short stories, but generally examine how they might have been affected by what happened on that fateful kayaking trip.

Because of this, the novel read more like a collection of short stories to me, but I didn’t mind it because each sub-story felt fully formed and realized and the writing was really beautiful. It didn’t deliver on what I was expecting from this book, but it was still a really nice piece of writing, so I didn’t mind. I think Kim Fu got the atmosphere of the story just right and I think the cover perfectly reflects that atmosphere too.

My complaint would be that it was a bit short. I was really into the main story at Forevermore and I would have liked to see this part of the novel developed a little more. It had a bit of a Lord of the Flies vibe and explored how children act and develop when left alone in stressful situations without adult support and I would have liked to see these themes explored in a little more depth and a bit better tied in with the futures of each girl. I also thought it was a weird choice to tell Kayla’s story instead of Andee’s. Andee is one of the 5 girls on the island, why tell her sister’s story instead of hers? I didn’t really get why the author choose to do this and was one of the reasons I thought the flash forwards could also work as short stories, since some of them seemed to have very little to do with what actually happened at camp.

Overall though, I did really like this, which goes to show you can’t always trust the goodreads ratings. I thought the writing was strong and the story was beautifully told. It’s a bit of a slow-burn novel, but it worked in this context. Plus I love supporting Canadian authors!

The Break






Rating: ⭐
Author: Katherena Vermette
Genres: Fiction
Read: Feb. 2018

I flew through The Break, which was the second book in my February Reading Challenge.

The Break is written by Métis author Katherena Vermette and tells the story of a Métis family and the struggles and challenges they’ve experienced, both together and apart. The novel opens with young mother Stella witnessing a crime on the break of land outside her house. She is paralyzed with fear and calls the police, but both the victim and the perpetrators have disappeared and law enforcement is not convinced of her story.

I don’t want to run the book by getting to into the plot, but it’s told from a lot of different viewpoints. There are 4 living generations in Stella’s family and they all have a voice in this story. As the police investigate the incident and the family is shook by violence, Vermette examines all the relationships and history that exist in this family. There are some narrators outside of the immediate family, such as the young Métis officer who investigates the incident, but this is really a story about family, the bonds that tie us together and the conflict that can threaten to tear us apart.

First off, the writing in The Break is fantastic. As soon as I started reading it I knew I was going to like it because it is just so beautifully written and the characters emotions are so tangibly felt. This was an insightful look inside the lives of a Métis family and it was very obvious the love this family had for one another, even through all the challenges they’ve had to overcome, the mistakes they’ve made, and the violence they’ve witnessed.

The tone of this story is very sad. Vermette made it easy to empathize with her characters and their pain felt very real. The story is heartbreaking and it was upsetting for me how frequently the women either experienced or witnessed sexual and domestic violence. But the women are what made this story so beautiful. It’s a very fractured family unit in that very few of the men in the family have stuck around or remained present in their families lives, but in the absence of reliable men, the women (sisters, cousins, aunts, grandmothers) have constructed their own family unit that is incredibly close.

The synopsis reads like this is a mystery novel, which it is in some ways, but it’s mostly a slow-burn family drama, which is one of my favourite types of stories. So I really liked this one and I am in love with Katherena Vermette’s writing. A fantastic read!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine






Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Gail Honeyman
Genres: Fiction
Read: Feb. 2018

I think I have a bit of an unpopular opinion on this one. I appreciate what Gail Honeyman did with this book and I actually do think it’s a really good story, but I was just so bored for a lot of this book.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine reminded me in parts of The Rosie Project (but better) and A Man Called Ove (but not quite as good). Eleanor is seemingly fine; she gets up every day and goes to work, she talks to her mum every Wednesday, and every Friday she purchases a bottle of vodka and spends the weekend alone in her flat. She likes routine, she dislikes emotion, and she believes she is completely fine.

Her routine is disrupted when she meets Raymond, the IT guy from her office, and together they witness an old man, Sammy, have a heart attack in the middle of the street. They take care of him until EMS arrives and check in on him as he recovers in hospital. For the first time in her life, Eleanor finds herself enjoying time with other people – building relationships and miking plans outside of her normal routine.

This is definitely a good book. I don’t want to say any spoilers, so I’ll try and talk in general terms, but I really like Eleanor’s evolution throughout this novel. The changes in her do feel very natural and believable and I didn’t think any of the interactions were forced. The novel climaxes at a very odd spot, about the 70% mark, but I did like watching Eleanor grow and heal throughout the last 30%. I liked that it wasn’t rushed or that she’s not just suddenly better, because that is not believable.

I absolutely loved Raymond. He was so down to earth and accepting. The thing I didn’t like about The Rosie Project was that I didn’t ever really buy into Rose and Don’s relationship, but I had no problem believing Eleanor and Raymond’s. Eleanor is a bit of a social outcast, but she’s also pretty likable and funny and I liked that Raymond was able to laugh with her and accept her little quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Taking the time to write this review and reflect on the book is actually improving my opinion of it (and I still have a book club meeting coming up, which might lower or increase my rating). I do think this is a good story, hence why I’m still giving it 3.5 stars, and it did make me think a lot afterwards. But I just can’t ignore that I was bored for a lot of the reading of the novel.

I know this book is narrated the way Eleanor thinks, which is mostly without emotion, but I am a very emotional person, so I found it really hard to engage in the story and I never felt anything tugging at me to pick this book up again once I put it down. And that’s totally fine. These are still important stories that should be told, it’s just not necessarily for me. It still helped me appreciate the way that some other people experience and move about in the world and I don’t regret reading it. Just not going to be a favourite.

Girl in Translation






Rating: ⭐.5
Author: Jean Kwok
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Read: Jan. 2018

YES! Finally, a good read in 2018! I was off to a rough start before this gem!

Girl in Translation has been on my TBR forever and I finally decided to give it a read as part of my January Reading Challenge to read 3 books about immigration. This is a beautiful, beautiful book and I’m so glad I finally took the time to read it.

Girl in Translation tells the semi-autobiographical story of Kimberly Chang and her mother as they try to survive in New York City as new immigrants from Hong Kong. I’m not entirely sure when this book is set, but from a few of the pop culture references it seems to take place in the 1980’s. Kim and her Ma are sponsored into America by her Aunt Paula, who puts them up in an apartment in Brooklyn and gives Ma a job at her husband’s clothing factory. Kim and Ma are dismayed at the state of the apartment, which has broken windows, no heat, and a lot of roaches and rats.

Back in Hong Kong, Kimberly was always top of her class, and knowing hardly any english, she struggles at school. Ma is working as a finisher at the clothing factory along with many other Chinese-Americans. The factory is actually a sweat shop that illegally pays its workers by the garment (as opposed to an hourly wage) and Kim must help Ma every day after school until late in the night to get the clothes ready for each shipment. When Kimberly is teased at school and harassed by her teacher, she wants to skip school, but quickly realizes that she is her and Ma’s only chance at ever getting out of poverty. She’s throws herself wholeheartedly into learning English and works hard to get back to the top of the class again.

This is such a heartbreaking and inspiring story and I really like Kwok’s writing. It reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which is a huge compliment because it is one of my all time favourite books. It’s not a plot driven book, it’s simply the story of a young girl growing up in very tough circumstances and working incredibly hard to better herself and her family. I loved that Kimberly was tenacious and ambitious, but that she was also very real and had flaws. She takes the weight of the world upon her shoulders and she refuses to ever ask for help. She struggles to make friends, but she is so lucky to have Annette and I wish she’d confided in her and shared herself with Annette. Kim always declined help and was reluctant to let anyone into her life. I feel like may be a symptom of her Chinese culture as Ma was always reluctant to build any relationship that couldn’t be reciprocated and reverently believed in the idea that a debt must always be repaid. Sadly they both seemed to confuse kindness as a debt sometimes.

The ending is pretty abrupt, which caught me off guard. I actually think this story could have used another 50 pages to do the ending justice, but I still really liked it. It’s a heartbreaking ending, but I really appreciated it because it was real. When I saw where things were going at the end, I immediately knew how Kim was going to react because Kwok has breathed such life into this character that she took on a life of her own and acting any other way would have been contrary to her character. Kwok is very perceptive and I loved all of her characters because they were so real and so flawed. I was worried she might take the easy way out to create a happier ending, but I’m glad she stayed true to her characters and gave us this very bittersweet ending.