Reading guide for When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald

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When We Were Vikings

by Andrew David MacDonald

When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald X
When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2020, 336 pages

    Aug 2020, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. On page 13, Zelda says, "Deeds and actions are what will make a person great and legendary." Do you think Zelda's deeds and actions throughout the book have given her legendary status? What about Gert's or AK47's? Discuss with your group.
  2. In the beginning of the book, Zelda tells a woman, "Hurting children causes emotional unstability as adults." Discuss Zelda's and Gert's childhood. Do you think they were able to overcome the instability of their own childhoods and form meaningful relationships with others? Why or why not? Do you think it is possible for people to come out of a traumatic childhood unharmed?
  3. Zelda frequently repeats wisdom she has learned from others, such as "we do not lie to people in our tribe." Share with your group something you learned from Zelda or your favorite Zelda quote. Have you applied any of Zelda's wisdom to your own life?
  4. Zelda often refers to the famous Viking skeleton that was recently discovered to be a woman and not a man. She also finds out that this Viking woman was a high-ranking warrior. How does this change Zelda's outlook on life? What does this mean for her? Discuss her reaction in the context of gender representation in pop culture.
  5. Gert can be categorized as both a villain and a hero. Discuss with the group his role as both archetypes. Do you think Gert is a good brother? Why or why not? Did you ever empathize with him? Why or why not? Discuss how the same actions can cause someone to be seen as a villain by some but as a hero by others.
  6. One of Zelda's driving forces throughout the novel is to be taken seriously and be seen as an adult. Where does Zelda's need to be seen as a grown-up lead her, and how does this drive impact her life? How does Zelda defy others' expectations of her?
  7. Kepple's Guide to the Vikings is an important tool for Zelda as she navigates the world. Discuss the value of books and libraries in your life. Was there a book such as Kepple's Guide in your life that changed the way you viewed the world?
  8. AK47 tells Zelda that "the world is too complicated to have rules for everything. And when it comes to things like love and sex—you need to kind of figure them out on your own." Why do you think Zelda struggles when she doesn't have a set of rules to follow?
  9. Dr. Kepple tells Zelda that "sometimes life finds us, and when it does we have to rise to the occasion and have courage." How does Zelda demonstrate this at different points throughout the novel?
  10. Zelda says she forgot Toucan was a villain when he was dying. How does Toucan's death affect Zelda, AK47, and Gert?
  11. In terms of Zelda's Viking moral code, does Zelda's killing of Toucan make her a villain or a hero? What do you think would have happened if Zelda never confronted him?
  12. Dr. Kepple also says that "we make lists, rules, and try to order things, trying to control them, when actually the most important parts of life, the parts really worth cherishing, are the things that we don't expect." Do you agree or disagree? Discuss with the group your most cherished moments and whether or not they were moments you expected.
  13. On page 138, AK47 tells Zelda, "I love him, I do. And I want things to work. But it's not so simple." Discuss the romantic relationship between Gert and AK47 versus between Zelda and Marxy.
  14. By the end of the novel, Zelda has displayed constant bravery and heroism in the face of challenges and obstacles. Discuss with your group whether you know of anyone with a disability who has triumphed in a similar way, and how society at large can better help people like Zelda flourish.

Enhance Your Book Club

  1. Discuss with your group what you think will happen to Zelda after the book ends. How will her life change or stay the same? Do you think that when she grows old, she will feel she has lived a legendary life?
  2. Zelda calls to mind heroines from other novels branded as "up lit," such as Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Compare and contrast the protagonists in these novels. Do you think they would all be friends? Why or why not?
  3. Zelda references the poem Beowulf many times in the novel. Read the poem as a group and compare and contrast the story with When We Were Vikings.
  4. To learn more about fetal alcohol syndrome, to donate, or to get involved, contact the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Gallery Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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