The Bookworm: Battles won, lost on all fronts

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Us Against You”

  • By Fredrik Backman
  • c. 2018, Atria
  • $28; 435 pages

You’re going down. Down, defeated, beaten, and sent home. You’re losing, not winning, and you need to know how it happened so it won’t happen again. Winners are champs, losers are chumps, and the latter is no fun. Besides, as in the new book “Us Against You” by Fredrik Backman, losing can take an entire town down with you.

Us Against You” by Fredrik Backman.

Hockey was everything for Beartown. Until it wasn’t. Back when the Bears were about to launch their team onto a national stage, Beartowners were riding high. Nobody could talk about anything but hockey, until Kevin Erdahl was arrested for raping Maya Andersson. Maya lost her childhood, the Bears lost the game, Coach lost his job, the town lost their team. Beartown hockey would be absorbed by Hed, the next town over and Beartown’s most hated rival.

Peter Andersson knew that everyone in Beartown blamed him for this – everyone, except the few who stood up for Maya and those who understood that he was a father before he was a coach. Now Peter watched everything fall around him, including his daughter, who seldom came home anymore; and his son, who carried anger around like an oxygen tank. Peter’s call to the police that night last winter ended a lot of things: friendships, futures, businesses, relationships. But what else could he do?

Us Against You” author Fredrik Backman

Not much, until he was given a lifeline.

Richard Theo always got what he wanted. And what he wanted was political office, power, and money from Beartown, without being blamed for anything that might happen while he achieved it. Years before, he’d learned that if he could determine someone’s deepest wishes, he could manipulate them for his own gain. Theo had become good at it, and Peter wore his wishes on his sleeve.

But, though Theo demanded it, could a lesbian coach, a few uncontrollable players, and some “hooligans” finish what Peter had been unable to do?  What price was he willing to pay for himself, his family, and his town to get his club back?  

Okay. Just so we’re clear on “Us Against You”: this is what it’s like to have your heart torn from your chest, tied with a string, and played with like a yo-yo.

This is what it’s like to be amused and teased, hurt and prodded and dangled by a narrator that will remind you of a red-nosed reindeer’s snowman. And you’re going to love every second of it because author Fredrik Backman has you on that string: pull up, and you’re laughing at a razor-keen observation on one of the characters. Spin down, and you’re so inside that character that you feel the sharpness of their pain.

The space between the two is where you’ll find one of the better novels you’ll read this year.

“Us Against You” is a sequel to last years’ “Beartown,” and while Backman gets readers up-to-speed pretty quickly, you’ll be happier if you read the first book first. Do that, then come back quick because once you’ve got this book in-hand, it’s not going down.

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“More Deadly than War”

  • By Kenneth C. Davis
  • c. 2018, Henry Holt
  • $19.99, $25.99 Canada; 304 pages

It was just a little poke. That’s all. Maybe you winced; maybe you barely even felt it, but you do it every year because it’s the best way to keep from getting sick. And once you read “More Deadly than War” by Kenneth C. Davis, you’ll know that getting your flu shot could be a matter of life or death.

In the spring of 1917, because of a “bloody mess” in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson “asked Congress to take the nation into war … ” Americans, filled with patriotism, swung into action: factories sprang up, production of raw materials increased, and the war effort “transformed American life” but it also offered perfect conditions for a pandemic.

“More Deadly than War” by Kenneth C. Davis.

They say it started on the Kansas prairie. On the morning of March 4, 1918, Fort Riley company cook Private Albert Gitchell complained of a “bad cold,” and was quarantined. Within minutes, two other soldiers entered the infirmary with the same complaints: body aches, sore throat, headache, fever, but this was not a normal cold. By lunchtime, more than a hundred soldiers were on the Fort’s sick list; by weeks’ end, more than 500 men were stricken.

Throughout the summer of 1918, as American soldiers fought “in the blood-soaked muck of European trenches,” folks back home were dying of what, due to politics, had been named the Spanish flu. But really, the name meant nothing: officials had few clues about what was causing people to sicken and die so quickly.

By the fall of 1918, hospitals around the world were filled with flu patients. Health care workers fell ill, too; in Alaska, populations of entire towns were nearly wiped out. Rich and poor alike were stricken, children were orphaned almost overnight, and bodies were stacked in morgues “like cord wood”; in New York City alone, more than thirty thousand people died. More Americans, in fact, died of the flu than were killed fighting World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined. And in 1997 – 81 years after its outbreak – scientists finally got a big break in solving it ...

Can it happen again? That’s a question your middle-schooler may ask as he reads this book; it’s something you may wonder, too, and “More Deadly than War” explains the somewhat-chilling truth.

As this “hidden history” unfolds, and considering what we know today, it’s easy to see how the flu spread in 1918: science hadn’t quite caught up with viruses like the Spanish Flu and sanitary conditions weren’t what they are now. On that, author Kenneth C. Davis offers details that are gruesome, but not overly so; kids who are fans of military history books especially won’t be fazed, since that information is made relevant in a nicely sophisticated overview of World War I.

And as for the happen-again scenario, Davis examines that, too, and offers some news that could comfort your aware 10-to-15-year-old, especially if he enjoys real-drama tales. For that, “More Deadly than War” is a book you’ll never have to poke him to finish. 

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.