Wednesday, December 18, 2019

When We Were Vikings - Andrew David MacDonald

There's something you need to know about Zelda right from the start: she has serious cognitive disabilities resulting from fetal alcohol syndrome. And that’s a big deal for the twenty-one-year old whose older brother Gert has looked after her since their mother died a few years earlier. But it may not be the most unusual thing about Zelda. You see, Zelda is also a Viking, and she thinks like a Viking. That means that anyone who underestimates Zelda’s bravery and loyalty to her tribe is going to regret making that mistake.

Zelda, who became a Viking on the Christmas day that Gert gave her a book all about Vikings, loves her brother dearly despite the fact that most everyone else takes one look at his shaved head and tattooed arms and assumes he is just another street-thug. She is proud of Gert – especially because he is going to college via a scholarship despite never having graduated high school. And she loves Annie, known to Zelda and Gert as “AK47,” almost as much as she loves her brother despite the fact that Gert and AK47 are no longer a couple.

Other than the split between Gert and AK47, things in Zelda’s life are in pretty good shape. She goes to the local community center regularly to work with and enjoy the company of others her age who are suffering various types of cognitive disabilities of their own. She even has a boyfriend there, Marxy, and the two of them are studying up on the subject so that they can have sex when they both understand all the steps involved. Still, the most important thing in the world to Zelda is becoming legendary in the manner of all the Viking legends and icons she’s read about since discovering their world. She’s prepared a list of the things she needs to do in order to become legendary, and she’s checking them off one-by-one.

Andrew David MacDonald
But then Zelda’s world falls apart. She learns that Gert is having problems at school, money problems at home, and scary problems tied to whatever illegal activity he’s undertaken to earn the money they so desperately need just to get by. In Zelda’s mind, their roles are now reversed, and she will have to be Gert’s protector rather than having it the other way around.

No problem. That’s one of the things on her checklist of things she needs to do to become legendary, anyway. Bring it on, villains.

Bottom Line: Zelda is a unique character that will be hard for readers to forget. She is very much aware of her limitations, but now that she is twenty-one, she yearns for an independent life in which she can make her own decisions. The sisterly relationship between her and AK47 is a touching one, and seeing the world through the eyes of Zelda and her community center friends is refreshing and inspirational. When We Were Vikings  is destined to become one of the best coming-of-age novels of 2020.

Review Copy courtesy of Gallery, Pocket Books
Publication Date to be January 28, 2020


  1. Replies
    1. It would make a great, great movie if Hollywood has the guts to do it...which I doubt.

  2. It is now on my list, Sam! Thanks for this review; I might not have paid attention to this one. I've just requested it from NetGalley--fingers crossed.

    1. I'll be curious to see what you think of it. Zelda is definitely someone I'm going to remember for a long time. Good luck!