Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Beartown. What a book.

Essentially, it’s about a small town in northern Sweden, that is obsessed with hockey. Everyone in the town is either obsessed with hockey because they themselves love it, or they are dragged into the hockey chaos because someone close to them loves it. I went into this book with the same mindset as most readers probably do; “Why are they so obsessed with hockey, it’s only a game…”. This question was quickly met with an answer- the town is dying. However there is hope. If the juniors win the finals, and have the best junior team in the country, it would mean that the next big Swedish hockey academy would be built in Beartown. This academy would put Beartown back on the map- and bring their economy a boost that they need desperately. All of the town’s hopes and dreams are therefore heaped upon the backs of the hockey team and their coaches. This gives the star players an immense power, a power that is misused by one particular hockey player in a terrible way.

How will the town cope? How will they draw the line? Who will step forward and become heros of justice?

There were so many amazing characters in this book; Amat, Maya, Benji, Peter, Kira, Bobo, Ana, David, Sune etc. etc. Usually I have a hard time with this many characters, I cannot keep them all straight, and they all kind of blur together in my mind. Not in this book. Even the minor characters are painted in such a vivid way and manage to develop very well. The lovable characters are extremely lovable. The antagonists make my skin crawl and my blood boil with rage.

Two themes that stood out to me in particular:

  1. Dedication. The majority of the characters show an immense amount of dedication to one thing or another. Granted, because Beartown is a hockey town, for many characters that dedication is given to hockey. It’s hard not to admire and feel lazy in comparison to the daily, consistent efforts of Amat, Kevin, and Filip. Then there are the coaches, Sune and David, who spend more time on the rink than off the rink. There are also the characters who are dedicated to their families and their children.
  2. Justice. How can each person personally stand up for what they believe is right? What are the implications of going against the grain, in order to do the right thing? So many characters had to make challenging decisions in Beartown. Some seem smaller than others, but all have their significance. A striking example in Beartown, is the boy who goes to school early one morning to wash away a cruel word that was graffitied. Small, but not insignificant.

Beyond the amazing characters and the important lessons that can be learned; this story is told in such a captivating way. I had the hardest time putting this book down and finished all 415 pages within 30 hours, which is relatively unheard of for me. Without a doubt this book gets 5/5 stars from me. I am already looking forward to re-reading Beartown. It would be the perfect “cold, winter night” read.

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Invisible North: The Search For Answers on a Troubled Reserve by Alexandra Shimo

I don’t even know how to start. I certainly know that there is no way I can write all that I want to say, and articulate all my feelings in one blog post. This relatively short, 171 page book has absolutely enraged me. As someone who has grown up in Canada, I always knew that the indigenous people of Canada have not been treated with respect… now I realize how much of an UNDERSTATEMENT that is.

A couple of posts ago, I talked about CBC’s Canada Reads 2017, of which the theme was “What is the one book Canadians need now”. Well, here is a book Canadians need. We need it desperately. Please, if you have not already read it, read Invisible North: The Search for Answered on a Troubled Reserve.

A quick synopsis: Alexandra Shimo, a freelance journalist, goes to the reserve of Kashechewan. In January 2007, there is a suicide crisis on the reserve and Shimo questions why “the reserve had emerged from obscurity to full-blown crisis and back again within just a couple of weeks. Such upsetting issues don’t just disappear” (pg. 19). Shimo is in Kashechewan for several months, and what she finds is outlined in this book. This book is powerful because it weaves together the facts and figures and the history of Canadian reserves with Shimo’s personal experiences in Kashechewan.

Invisible North is an important book because, as I mentioned in my post about The Break by Katherena Vermette, how can Canadians fight against issues we don’t understand, or even worse- don’t know about. Invisible North shows the reader:

1) How terribly the people of Kashechewan (and other indigenous communities) have been and continue to be treated by the government.

2) The many, many, MANY ways the people and leadership of Kashechewan have tried and tried and tried to improve their situation, only to literally be ignored. As Shimo mentions, indigenous communities are in a sickening “Catch-22” that prevents them from escaping the poverty they are in.

3) WAYS PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND ME CAN HELP!! Shimo brilliantly included a chapter titled “Getting Involved”. Awareness is extremely important, however, providing ways for readers to get involved provides opportunity for a step in the right direction. Some examples of organizations she highlights are: http://www.themfi.ca/ and http://www.rotaryhip.com/ .

Invisible North is not the type of book one reads and forgets about the next day. I will probably mention this book time and time again. I am going to tell as many people to read it as possible.

One thing that may be overlooked, is that by suppressing these cultures and these people, Canada is not only responsible for committing and perpetuating a huge social injustice, Canada is also missing out on so much opportunity, beauty, and wisdom. The “see-saw” is way out of balance, it’s embarrassing. Reconciliation is the biggest issue in Canada, and we cannot move towards it fast enough- as it is we are already far too late.

To Selena, With Love by Chris Perez

Chris Perez tells the story of many things in this beautiful book about his late wife, Selena Quintanilla. He tells the story of love in its most beautiful form, the story of life when lived with passion and authenticity, and the story of a loss so profound it seems an insurmountable obstacle.

Selena Quintanilla was an extremely popular Tejano singer, and although she was mostly known in the Mexican-American community, she was on a swift rise towards the top of the music industry at the time of her death, and To Selena, With Love talks about this. However, what I love most about this book, is that it could have been about anyone pursuing their dreams, famous or not, and still been an incredible story. Truthfully, her music is not something I would listen to, and I had never even heard of her before I saw Selena, and yet I feel so touched and inspired by the life she lived.

Selena serves an example of how to live life authentically and to the fullest. She found her passion, her gifts, and she worked hard to follow through and be successful despite the many obstacles. She found her true love, and she fought to be with Chris before they were married, and then fought to keep their love alive. At the age of 23 she had accomplished so much in terms of making a difference in the lives of others through her work, her music, and her relationships.

So many times, when reading this book, I found myself thinking “Wow, what a beautiful soul”. She embraced herself, and others, she valued everyone around her. She was playful and found ways to have fun despite her hectic schedule. She wasn’t perfect, Chris doesn’t paint Selena as being that way, he talks about her faults, but her love and vivacity always win. Her death was a tragedy, no doubt about that, but the beauty of Selena, is that although her life was short in terms of time, her life was not “small” because of the way she lived and seized the day while she was alive.

I hope to face life as Selena did; with joy, determination, optimism, and of course, with love.

The Break by Katherena Vermette

I work at a library, and I was checking books in when The Break caught my eye. I quickly skimmed the back cover, and placed it on hold. A few weeks later, I found out that The Break would be featured as a contestant on CBC’s Canada Reads, for which the question was “What is the one book Canadians need now?”. I became even more intrigued.

I must admit that I have not read the other four books presented in the show, however, I do believe that The Break is a book Canadians need to read. Why do Canadians need this book? Because, as Canadians, we need to hear each other’s perspectives, and each other’s voices. For our country to thrive, we need to know what issues other Canadians are facing. In this book, we hear the voices of indigenous women. I don’t think these important perspectives are portrayed enough in the media.

Candy Palmater defended The Break on Canada Reads. She said she has met many women who have told her they feel The Break tells their story, or the story of someone close to them. I want to learn more about the stories and the realities of my fellow Canadians. We are often caught up in being aware of the issues of the world- so very important- but sometimes we forget to be aware of the issues in our own neighbourhoods, our own cities, our own country. How can we raise concerns in our communities, how can we solve challenges faced my members of our society if we are oblivious to them?

In the news, we don’t hear enough perspectives, and we certainly hardly ever get the full story. Books such as The Break enlighten on the challenges and frustrations that are faced by other Canadians, and these are the books Canadians need. The more voices, and the people who are represented in widely read literature- the better.

 

Keeper’n Me by Richard Wagamese

It took me awhile to finish reading this book. I read it in small pieces; I felt  there was such a high concentration of wisdom within it that I wanted to savour a little at a time.

Garnet Raven was only three years old when he was taken from his Ojibway family and placed into foster care. Ever since, there was no contact with his family, or any exposure to the Ojibwa way of life, until, in his twenties, he receives a letter from his older brother, who has finally tracked him down after years of searching.

Keeper’n Me is the story of Garnet’s journey to reconnect with his family and his culture; how he goes from feeling lost and empty, to found and whole. Garnet’s main mentor is “Keeper”, an old friend of his grandfather. Through Keeper’s teaching and through Garnet’s reflections the reader is offered insight into the Anishanabe way of life, their traditions, and their values. Keeper’n Me shows the beauty and wisdom of the Anishanabe teachings on respect, humility, gentleness, self-awareness, community, and connecting with nature.

Not to sound cheesy, but I sincerely feel that this book has shared with me some truths that can be linked to that elusive “meaning of life”.

“That’s what ma says. Says that magic’s born of the land and the ones who go places in life are the ones who take the time to let that magic seep inside them. Sitting there, all quiet and watching, listening, learning. That’s how the magic seeps in. Anishanabe are pretty big on magic, she says. Not so much the pullin’ rabbits outta hats kinda of magic but more the pullin’ learning outta everything around ‘em.” -Richard Wagamese, Keeper’n Me

The Wonder of “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio

What a beautiful and uplifting book! If I could choose one book to be required reading for all children, Wonder would easily be my pick.

We follow along with Auggie as he goes to school for the first time in the fifth grade. He is nervous about going to school, because on the outside, he doesn’t look like his classmates. Upon entering the school year, Auggie fears rejection. We, the readers, see how throughout the year, despite the many challenges, Auggie is able to find acceptance.

Perhaps the ending is slightly idealistic, however, I would argue that this “ideal” ending is precisely what makes this book so powerful. Wonder provides a clear example of the wonderful things that can happen when we accept one another for who we are. I believe young readers will be inspired to find and build friendships with classmates they have previously rejected or ignored. And, I believe schools will or have already become happier places because of this book.

Although Wonder is a book about children in middle school, there is no reason why this lesson cannot be extended to the “adult world”. Let us keep our eyes open in our workplaces, in our churches, in our extra-curricular activities. What can we do to sprinkle some happiness in the lives of another? What small, but powerful steps can we take to show someone they are accepted and valued?

Acceptance begets community. And today, in this world, there is nothing we need more than strong communities. Communities of people who are willing to support and stand up for each other. Communities of people who refuse to let each other fall between the cracks.

Acceptance of diversity begets strong communities.