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10 Life-Affirming Reads for Fredrik Backman Fans

Karen Bellovich
September 27 2022
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If you’re not already familiar with Fredrik Backman’s novels, let me acquaint you with them! Fredrik Backman is the author of A Man Called Ove, Anxious People, Britt-Marie Was Here, and many other wonderful novels. His stories have been described as warmhearted, charming, wise, funny, and powerful. I’ve long admired the way he fills pages with compassionate characters, wonderful details, and beautiful descriptions, and am always looking for books with similar messages and feelings. Many of the books in this article reflect the themes in Backman’s novels, including joy, family, loss, grief, hope, and love. I hope you enjoy!

The Winners
by Fredrik Backman

First, we should start with Backman’s latest release. THE WINNERS is the third book in the Beartown trilogy, which includes the novels BEARTOWN and US AGAINST YOU. THE WINNERS begins with an impressive, violent, and overwhelming storm that, for a moment, brings out the best in the townspeople of Beartown and Hed as they try to help one another. What follows is a tale rich with characters, some returning and some new. After the horrific events of two years ago, two young teenagers return to a happy reunion with family and friends. There’s a sense of trying to move on from what happened, but it’s not easily done, and before long an old rivalry between the two towns is once again being played out in a hockey rink. Both towns are obsessed with winning at any cost. But, in the end, will that cost be too great?

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The Winners
Fredrik Backman

The long-awaited conclusion to the beloved New York Times bestselling and “engrossing” (People) Beartown series—which inspired an HBO series of the same name—follows the small hockey town’s residents as they grapple with change, pain, hope, and redemption.

It starts with a storm, a death, and two funerals on the same day.

One person’s life is being celebrated by all of Beartown.

One person’s life is being forgotten.

Maya Andersson and Benji Ovich, two young people who left in search of a life far from the forest town, come home and joyfully reunite with their closest childhood friends. They can see how much Beartown has changed. There is a sense of optimism and purpose in the town, embodied in the impressive new ice rink that has been built down by the lake.

Two years have passed since the events that no one wants to think about. Everyone has tried to move on, but there’s something about this place that prevents it. The destruction caused by a ferocious late-summer storm reignites the old rivalry between Beartown and the neighboring town of Hed, a rivalry which has always been fought through their ice hockey teams. Maya’s parents, Peter and Kira, are caught up in an investigation of the hockey club’s murky finances, and Amat—once the star of the Beartown team—has lost his way after an injury and a failed attempt to get drafted into the NHL. Simmering tensions between the two towns turn into acts of intimidation and then violence. All the while, a fourteen-year-old boy grows increasingly alienated from this hockey-obsessed community and is determined to take revenge on the people he holds responsible for his beloved sister’s death. He has a pistol and a plan that will leave Beartown with a loss that is almost more that it can stand.

As it beautifully captures all the complexities of daily life and explores questions of friendship, loyalty, loss, and identity, this emotion-packed novel asks us to reconsider what it means to win, what it means to lose, and what it means to forgive.

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The Selfless Act of Breathing
by JJ Bola

What does it feel like to be in your life but not really living? This is a question Michael Kabongo struggles with. Michael is a British Congolese teacher living in London. He is much loved by his students, but pain lurking just beneath the surface fills him with despair. When he decides to go on one last adventure, Michael quits his job and sets out for America. With his savings in hand, he travels from coast to coast, meeting new people and experiencing different ways of living. But the question remains: Will this journey help Michael find his way through his pain and find hope? A similar question weaves through many of Backman’s gems.

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The Selfless Act of Breathing
JJ Bola

A heartbreaking, lyrical story for all of those who have fantasized about escaping their daily lives and starting over.

Michael Kabongo is a British-Congolese teacher living in London on the cusp of two identities. On paper, he seems to have it all: He’s beloved by his students, popular with his coworkers, and the pride and joy of a mother who emigrated from the Congo to the UK in search of a better life. But behind closed doors, he’s been struggling with the overwhelming sense that he can’t address the injustices he sees raging before him—from his relentless efforts to change the lives of his students for the better to his attempts to transcend the violence and brutality that marginalizes young Black men around the world.

Then one day he suffers a devastating loss, and his life is thrown into a tailspin. As he struggles to find a way forward, memories of his fathers’ violent death, the weight of refugeehood, and an increasing sense of dread threaten everything he’s worked so hard to achieve. Longing to escape the shadows in his mind and start anew, Michael decides to spontaneously pack up and go to America, the mythical “land of the free,” where he imagines everything will be better, easier—a place where he can become someone new, someone without a past filled with pain.

On this transformative journey, Michael travels everywhere from New York City to San Francisco, partying with new friends, sparking fleeting romances, and splurging on big adventures, with the intention of living the life of his dreams until the money in his bank account runs out.

Written in spellbinding prose, with Bola’s trademark magnetic storytelling, The Selfless Act of Breathing takes us on a wild ride to odd but exciting places as Michael makes surprising new connections and faces old prejudices in new settings.

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The Possibilities
by Kaui Hart Hemmings

I was pulled into this story the moment I started reading. Set in Breckenridge, Colorado, this is the story of Sarah St. John, a mother who’s grieving the loss of her son, Cully, who died only three months earlier. Even though Sarah is surrounded by people who love her—including her father, who just retired, and her best friend, Suzanne, who’s going through a divorce—she feels the weight of her grief. As she begins to return to her life and her job as a local TV personality, thoughts and images of Cully stay with her. Sarah wonders how she will ever be able to heal. But one day a mysterious young girl named Kit shows up on Sarah’s doorstep with a secret from Cully, and Sarah’s life is changed forever. This graceful, uplifting, and tender story about love, loss, and, ultimately, hope will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

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The Possibilities
Kaui Hart Hemmings

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Descendants—a “funny, insightful, and unsentimental” (People, 4 stars) novel about a grieving mother and the shocking surprise that may help her reclaim her hold on life.

In the idyllic ski town of Breckenridge, Colorado, Sarah St. John is reeling. Three months ago, her twenty-two-year-old son, Cully, died in an avalanche. Sarah’s father, a retiree, tries to distract her from her grief with gadgets from the home shopping channel. Sarah’s best friend offers life advice by venting details of her own messy divorce. Even Cully’s father reemerges, stirring more emotions and confusion than Sarah needs. But Sarah feels she is facing the stages of grief—the anger, the sadness, the letting go—alone; she desperately wants to hear the swoosh of her son’s ski pants, or watch him skateboard past her window. And one day a strange girl arrives on her doorstep. Unexpected and unexplained, she bears a secret from Cully that could change all of their lives forever.

With wry wit and intuition, Kaui Hart Hemmings highlights the subtle poignancies of grief and relationships in this stunning look at people faced with impossible choices. Called “surprisingly entertaining” (The New York Times Book Review) and “familiar yet richly, astutely observant and reflective” (The Boston Globe), The Possibilities brilliantly portrays tragic ineffability with grace and hope.

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The Sign for Home
by Blair Fell

Arlo Dilly is DeafBlind and under the control of his guardian, his uncle Birch. He wonders whether he’ll ever find love again after losing Shri, a girl he knew years ago and believes he’ll never meet again. However, when Arlo begins working with his new interpreter, Cyril, he realizes that there is much more in the world for him than his uncle makes him believe. Inspired to find Shri, Arlo works with Cyril and a small group of friends to create a plan to rescue her. Not only is this story an amazing read but it’s very educational as well—you’ll learn so much about the many different forms of sign language. I couldn’t stop reading! It’s a story about fighting for your independence and breaking free of the things that hold you down.

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The Sign for Home
Blair Fell

When Arlo Dilly learns the girl he thought was lost forever might still be out there, he takes it as a sign and embarks on a life-changing journey to find his great love—and his freedom.

Arlo Dilly is young, handsome and eager to meet the right girl. He also happens to be DeafBlind, a Jehovah’s Witness, and under the strict guardianship of his controlling uncle. His chances of finding someone to love seem slim to none.

And yet, it happened once before: many years ago, at a boarding school for the Deaf, Arlo met the love of his life—a mysterious girl with onyx eyes and beautifully expressive hands which told him the most amazing stories. But tragedy struck, and their love was lost forever.

Or so Arlo thought.

After years trying to heal his broken heart, Arlo is assigned a college writing assignment which unlocks buried memories of his past. Soon he wonders if the hearing people he was supposed to trust have been lying to him all along, and if his lost love might be found again.

No longer willing to accept what others tell him, Arlo convinces a small band of misfit friends to set off on a journey to learn the truth. After all, who better to bring on this quest than his gay interpreter and wildly inappropriate Belgian best friend? Despite the many forces working against him, Arlo will stop at nothing to find the girl who got away and experience all of life’s joyful possibilities.

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The Patron Saint of Second Chances
by Christine Simon

This charming tale of a small town and the people who live there will make you smile. Signor Speranza is the mayor of Prometto (meaning promise), a village in Italy with a population of 212 people. Speranza loves his town. His family has been there for generations. There is nowhere else he would ever consider living. But when he learns that the water commission is sending an inspector to check the town’s water pipes, Signor Speranza knows this will lead to trouble. The people in town cannot afford to replace the pipes at a cost of 70,000 euros. Inspired by what he’s heard about the success of a nearby town, Speranza begins to spread a rumor that a famous movie star is coming to town to make a film. This rumor sets the townspeople in motion. Everyone wants to be part of the movie. But when things begin to get out of hand, Speranza will be left wondering how to make his rumor into reality.

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The Patron Saint of Second Chances
Christine Simon

The self-appointed mayor of a tiny Italian village is determined to save his hometown no matter the cost in this charming, hilarious, and heartwarming debut novel.

Vacuum repairman and self-appointed mayor of Prometto, Italy (population 212) Signor Speranza has a problem: unless he can come up with 70,000 euros to fix the town’s pipes, the water commission will shut off the water to the village and all its residents will be forced to disperse. So in a bid to boost tourism—and revenue—he spreads a harmless rumor that movie star Dante Rinaldi will be filming his next project nearby.

Unfortunately, the plan works a little too well, and soon everyone in town wants to be a part of the fictional film—the village butcher will throw in some money if Speranza can find roles for his fifteen enormous sons, Speranza’s wistfully adrift daughter reveals an unexpected interest in stage makeup, and his hapless assistant Smilzo volunteers a screenplay that’s not so secretly based on his undying love for the film’s leading lady. To his surprise—and considerable consternation, Speranza realizes that the only way to keep up the ruse is to make the movie for real.

As the entire town becomes involved (even the village priest invests!) Signor Speranza starts to think he might be able to pull this off. But what happens when Dante Rinaldi doesn’t show up? Or worse, what if he does?

A “hilariously funny and beautifully written” (Julia Claiborne Johnson, author of Better Luck Next Time) novel about the power of community, The Patron Saint of Second Chances is perfect for fans of Fredrik Backman and Maria Semple.

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Keya Das's Second Act
by Sopan Deb

After Keya Das passed away in a tragic accident, her Bengali American family is torn apart by grief, loss, regret, and guilt. Keya’s father, Shantanu, a professor at Rutgers University, has lived with this regret every day since Keya died, because he didn’t accept her after she came out as gay. Shantanu now sits alone in the house that he once shared with Keya; her sister, Mitali; and his wife, Chaitali. He hasn’t seen Mitali in months, is divorced from Chaitali, and finds himself isolated from his traditional Bengali community. After deciding to sell the house, Shantanu begins clearing it out, starting with the attic. Here he finds a small box containing an unfinished manuscript that Keya and her girlfriend, Pamela, were writing together. When the Dases decide to take the manuscript and turn it into a play, it becomes a second chance to connect with and honor Keya, and a way to heal their pain.

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Keya Das's Second Act
Sopan Deb

A poignant, heartwarming, and charmingly funny debut novel about how a discovered box in the attic leads one Bengali American family down a path toward understanding the importance of family, even when splintered.

Shantanu Das is living in the shadows of his past. In his fifties, he finds himself isolated from his traditional Bengali community after a devastating divorce from his wife, Chaitali; he hasn’t spoken to his eldest daughter Mitali in months; and most painfully, he lives each day with the regret that he didn’t accept his teenaged daughter Keya after she came out as gay. As the anniversary of Keya’s death approaches, Shantanu wakes up one morning utterly alone in his suburban New Jersey home and realizes it’s finally time to move on.

This is when Shantanu discovers a tucked-away box in the attic that could change everything. He calls Mitali and pleads with her to come home. She does so out of pity, not realizing that her life is about to shift.

Inside the box is an unfinished manuscript that Keya and her girlfriend were writing. It’s a surprising discovery that brings Keya to life briefly. But Neesh Desai, a new love interest for Mitali with regrets of his own, comes up with a wild idea, one that would give Keya more permanence: what if they are to stage the play? It could be an homage to Keya’s memory, and a way to make amends. But first, the Dases need to convince Pamela Moore, Keya’s girlfriend, to give her blessing. And they have to overcome ghosts from the past they haven’t met yet.

A story of redemption and righting the wrongs of the past, Keya Das’s Second Act is a warmly drawn homage to family, creativity, and second chances. Set in the vibrant world of Bengalis in the New Jersey suburbs, this debut novel is both poignant and, at times, a surprising hilarious testament to the unexpected ways we build family and find love, old and new.

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The Rosie Project
by Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman is a brilliant genetics professor who is about to embark on the challenge of a lifetime. Don finds it hard to navigate social situations and has led a life that is organized, efficient, and sometimes rigid, leaving little room for anything else. When his friend Gene tells him that he thinks Don would make a great husband, Don is shocked. This new thought leads him to create the Wife Project questionnaire in the hopes of finding his perfect partner. As Don embarks on his quest, Gene introduces him to a graduate student named Rosie. Rosie is the complete opposite of everything Don believes he wants, but when he agrees to help her find her biological father, Don soon finds that maybe the perfect person for him is not so perfect after all. A delightful and upbeat story.

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The Rosie Project
Graeme Simsion

The protagonist of Graeme Simsion’s romantic comedy THE ROSIE PROJECT is the most refreshingly unique, honest, and hilarious character I have read in a long time. I don’t generally read romantic comedies, but this one stole my heart right from the first paragraph.

Read Sarah Jane Abbott’s review here.

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The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream
by Jeannie Zusy

Betsy, Ginny, and Maggie are sisters. Betsy, the oldest sister, is a professional surfer living in California. Maggie, the youngest sister, is an illustrator and mother to two teenage boys who has recently separated from her husband. The two sisters are called together when middle sister Ginny, a sugar-loving diabetic with intellectual disabilities, is hospitalized. While visiting her sister’s hospital room, Maggie discovers that Ginny is no longer able to care for herself and decides it would be better for her to live in upstate New York so she can be closer to Maggie. Betsy disagrees with this decision, however, which creates tension between them. Soon Maggie becomes Ginny’s caretaker along with parenting her kids, working at her job, and dealing with her husband. This touching and moving story examines the complexities and the joys of being a sister.

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The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream
Jeannie Zusy

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine meets Early Morning Riser with a dash of Where’d You Go, Bernadette in this very funny, occasionally romantic, and surprisingly moving novel about how one woman’s life is turned upside down when she becomes caregiver to her sister with special needs.

Every family has its fault lines, and when Maggie gets a call from the ER in Maryland where her older sister lives, the cracks start to appear. Ginny, her sugar-loving and diabetic older sister with intellectual disabilities, has overdosed on strawberry Jell-O.

Maggie knows Ginny really can’t live on her own, so she brings her sister and her occasionally vicious dog to live near her in upstate New York. Their other sister, Betsy, is against the idea but as a professional surfer, she is conveniently thousands of miles away.

Thus, Maggie’s life as a caretaker begins. It will take all of her dark humor and patience, already spread thin after a separation, raising two boys, freelancing, and starting a dating life, to deal with Ginny’s diapers, sugar addiction, porn habit, and refusal to cooperate. Add two devoted but feuding immigrant aides and a soon-to-be ex-husband who just won’t go away, and you’ve got a story that will leave you laughing through your tears as you wonder who is actually taking care of whom.

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The Awakening of Miss Prim
by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

After seeing an ad in the newspaper seeking a librarian for a private collection, Prudencia Prim makes her way to the small French village of San Ireneo de Arnois, where she meets the wealthy, book-loving gentleman who will be her employer. He’s raising his four nieces and nephews and needs Prudencia to organize the many books in the library that will be used for their schooling. But Prudencia finds it challenging to let go of the stressful life she knew before. Will she learn to love and embrace all that this new way of life has to offer? This is a delightful book that reminds us of just how beautiful and full of joy life can be if only we awaken to it.

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The Awakening of Miss Prim
Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

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We Are the Light
by Matthew Quick

This is the story of Lucas Goodgame, who loses everything that he ever held dear in a matter of seconds through unimaginable tragedy. Lucas’s pain and grief come through in the letters he writes to his former Jungian analyst, Karl. The letters detail Lucas’s search for answers that don’t seem to exist as he comes to grips with the loss of his wife, Darcy (who visits him every night in the form of an angel). But Lucas’s life begins to turn around when he befriends Eli, an eighteen-year-old boy dealing with his own pain, and the pair begin working together to try to bring healing to their town. An emotional, beautifully written story of loss, grief, love, and healing, WE ARE THE LIGHT will be published on November 1, 2022.

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We Are the Light
Matthew Quick

From Matthew Quick, the New York Times bestselling author of The Silver Linings Playbook—made into the Academy Award–winning movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper—comes a poignant and hopeful novel about a widower who takes in a grieving teenager and inspires a magical revival in their small town.

Lucas Goodgame lives in Majestic, Pennsylvania, a quaint suburb that has been torn apart by a recent tragedy. Everyone in Majestic sees Lucas as a hero—everyone, that is, except Lucas himself. Insisting that his deceased wife, Darcy, visits him every night in the form of an angel, Lucas spends his time writing letters to his former Jungian analyst, Karl. It is only when Eli, an eighteen-year-old young man whom the community has ostracized, begins camping out in Lucas’s backyard that an unlikely alliance takes shape and the two embark on a journey to heal their neighbors and, most importantly, themselves.

From Matthew Quick, whose work has been described by the Boston Herald as “like going to your favorite restaurant. You just know it is going to be good,” We Are the Light is an unforgettable novel about the quicksand of grief and the daily miracle of love. The humorous, soul-baring story of Lucas Goodgame offers an antidote to toxic masculinity and celebrates the healing power of art. In this tale that will stay with you long after the final page is turned, Quick reminds us that life is full of guardian angels.

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