The Winners [Book Review] #LiteraryFiction #Sports #Community

The Winners by Fredrik Backman

The Winners by Fredrik Backman is a compelling work of contemporary literary fiction with complicated characters, page-turning action, and thought-provoking themes.

The Winners by Fredrik Backman (cover) Image: white text over a background picture of a cold mountain landscape

Genre/Categories/Setting: Contemporary Literary Fiction, Hockey, Family Drama, Friendship, Community, Small Town, Sweden

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My Summary of The Winners:

The Winners is installment #3 in the Beartown series. It is the story of family, loyalties, motivations, community, sports….and the big questions in life. What is a winner? Who are the winners?

“You want to understand this place? Then you need to understand its connections, the way everything and everyone is tied to everything and everyone else by invisible threads of relationships and loyalties and debts: the ice rink and the factory, the hockey team and the politicians, league position and money, sports and employment opportunities, childhood friends and teammates neighbors and colleagues and families.”

My Thoughts:

“A kid needs money or skill to be a somebody in Beartown.”


This is one of those books that’s impossible to review. I can say that I awarded it 5+ Stars and that it is profound, compelling, and thought-provoking in Backman’s usual manner. Masterful and powerful, he’s my favorite contemporary storyteller because he is a keen observer of people, thinks about the kinds of issues that matter most in life, and bravely writes about them. While the second installment in the trilogy was a bit too pedantic and agenda-driven for my taste, The Winners is back to the story-telling I enjoyed in Beartown. My brief review of Beartown and Us Against You.

The Winners?

Who are the winners? What do they win? Are the winners the team that scores the most points? Is a winner the person who runs toward danger or runs away? Is a winner the one who tries her best to care for others and do the right thing? Is a winner one who is a loyal friend or community member? Is a winner the one who saves a life? Is the winner one who is sacrificial?


As I read, I kept a running list of themes, and by story’s end I had quite an extensive list! A few of the most riveting themes include protecting children, having your person, feeling useless (powerless, invisible, unheard, ignored, discarded), all-consuming sports, grief, feeling safe (PTSD), finding safety in a storm, parenting, coming home, winning at all costs, chosen family, caring for each other, pressure and expectations on young athletes, mob mentality, power, money, winning, individual expression, forgiveness, remorse, teammates, belonging, revenge, hatred, identity, allegiances, friendship, corruption, competition, and someone to believe in you. Packed with a lot of content. Amirite?

Book Club

The Winners will provide thoughtful discussion possibilities for your book club! 1. Is it possible to play by the rules and get ahead? 2. Do people at the bottom need to cheat to get to the top? 3. What is a winner? 4. Who are the winners? 5. Can we ever cross the lines of our allegiances? 6. Do people follow leaders or winners?

Character-Driven or Plot-Driven?

Often in literature, a story leans heavily in the direction of character-driven or plot-driven. As I’ve indicated in this post, my preference is for a perfect balance. Some may expect that because I’ve categorized this as Literary Fiction that The Winners would be predominately character-driven. However, what I love about Backman’s writing is that he creates an exquisite balance of characterization and plot.

Too Many Characters?

I can understand how some readers might feel there are too many characters in The Winners. This does add to the length of the story (684 pages). However, in Backman’s defense, he is writing about a community and a myriad of issues that face the community. It’s helpful to know there will be a number of characters going into the story, and I suggest taking notes at first. I can overlook Backman’s extensive character list because of his powerful writing and his ability to bring it all together in the end.

Third Installment Repetition?

A concern that readers have with a series is that the author might spend a great deal of time reminding readers of characters and summarizing past content. I hope you will see the masterful way Backman catches readers up on the characters by adding layers to their characterization. It’s not a simple retelling of the past because he’s adding new information and more complexity. It’s brilliant actually.

Stand Alone?

Backman informs us that he wrote each installment of the trilogy so it could be read as a stand-alone. I think that’s accurate, but reading the series in order is always a more satisfying reading experience in my opinion.

The Writing

Backman introduces readers to characters through a series of brief character vignettes. Along with no wasted words and liberal use of foreshadowing, Backman’s writing is compelling, direct, unflinching, exact, thought-provoking, serious, truthful, insightful, wise, and intense. Even though Backman is the type of author who takes his time to build a story, he also moves it along at a page-turning pace by not dwelling too long with one character or one event. Although there is some complicated family drama in this story, the real emphasis is on complicated community drama. If you’re searching for masterful writing, please consider Fredrik Backman!

Suspense and Tension

I often wonder if Backman builds a story or unravels it?

Either way, Backman is a master at creating tension! The stakes are high from the first page! This might be the technical aspect of his writing that I enjoy the most. However, a reader needs to exercise patience and allow Backman to build it. He uses storms and subtle foreshadowing as techniques. In The Winners, we know that someone will die from the first pages. I appreciate the manner in which Backman prepares the reader throughout the story for this eventuality. It’s still a difficult passage to read, but we know something is coming. Even though Backman writes difficult and perhaps traumatic content, he always cares for the reader. With other authors the drama, emotion, and trauma seem manipulative….this is never the case with Backman whose writing is genuine and authentic.

Recommending The Winners

I’m enthusiastically recommending The Winners for readers who appreciate thoughtful and sometimes gritty drama, complicated characters, compelling themes, and brilliant writing. Readers looking for works in translation will be interested to know that all Backman’s books are translated from Swedish.

Other books I’ve reviewed by Fredrik Backman: Beartown, Us Against You, Anxious People, The Deal of a Lifetime, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, Things My Son Needs to Know About the World

Content Consideration: rape (current and past), gun violence, young adult drinking and drugs, fighting, death of a child (off the page),

My Rating:  5+  Stars


The Winners

More Information Here

Meet the Author of The Winners, Fredrik Backman

Author of The Winners, Fredrik BackmanFredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called OveMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s SorryBritt-Marie Was HereBeartownUs Against You, and Anxious People, as well as two novellas and one work of nonfiction. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter @BackmanLand and on Instagram @Backmansk.


Is this third installment of Beartown on your TBR or have you read it?

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I purchase or borrow from the library all books I review unless explicitly stated that the book is free (arc)

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    • Hopefully, this is the last one of your comments in spam! Good grief! Thanks for your kind words Wendy! Beartown is an outstanding series if you haven’t read it! (my least fav…but still good… was #2, but I loved #1 and #3)

  1. I also went 5/5 on this even if Backman broke my heart again. You nailed it when you spoke of his keen observations of people in his tales. One of my favorite things he never fails to highlight in his books is connection and humanity. Beautiful storyteller.

  2. I agree that he is the best author at this time. All of his books have resonated with me, although Anxious People was not a favorite. I can’t wait to see A Man Called Otto! I have watched the Swedish version and loved it! I liked your list of themes, too.

  3. Wow, excellent review, Carol. I was going to listen to this book, but after reading your review, I think I will read it so I don’t get confused. I have read and enjoyed the first two books in this series and am really looking forward to this one and closure to the story.

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