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Summary and book reviews of When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald

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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  • Published:
    Jan 2020, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

A heart-swelling debut for fans of The Silver Linings Playbook and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Sometimes life isn't as simple as heroes and villains.

For Zelda, a twenty-one-year-old Viking enthusiast who lives with her older brother, Gert, life is best lived with some basic rules:

1. A smile means "thank you for doing something small that I liked."
2. Fist bumps and dabs = respect.
3. Strange people are not appreciated in her home.
4. Tomatoes must go in the middle of the sandwich and not get the bread wet.
5. Sometimes the most important things don't fit on lists.

But when Zelda finds out that Gert has resorted to some questionable—and dangerous—methods to make enough money to keep them afloat, Zelda decides to launch her own quest. Her mission: to be legendary. It isn't long before Zelda finds herself in a battle that tests the reach of her heroism, her love for her brother, and the depth of her Viking strength.

When We Were Vikings is an uplifting debut about an unlikely heroine whose journey will leave you wanting to embark on a quest of your own, because after all...

We are all legends of our own making.

Chapter One

The Viking my brother got me for my birthday was tall and had muscles. Even if you were not an expert on Vikings and had not read Kepple's Guide to the Vikings, you would say, that is a Viking. He looked like he could defeat hordes of villains and commit acts of bravery, like Beowulf, the most famous Viking, who defeated Grendel, who was not only a regular villain but also a monster.

But since I am an expert, I noticed many incorrect things. For example, the Viking's sword wasn't made of real metal, and his outfit was plastic instead of brynja, which is an armor made of rings to protect warriors from being cut with swords. His blond hair was not really blond. I could see that it had actually been colored.

After seeing the Viking, I chose a new Word of Today. The word ended up being gargantuan, a way of saying something, or someone, is amazingly large. It was a word that I had written on my list, with the help of my best friend, AK47, and since I remembered the definition...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may 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...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In many ways, When We Were Vikings is a standard coming-of-age novel, where a young woman on the edge of adulthood begins to discover who she really is and what she wants out of life. What makes the book a stand-out, though, is the author's depiction of Zelda; she's a character most readers will find fascinating. Her determination to do the right thing (and sometimes get into trouble because of it) makes her an appealing protagonist, and MacDonald writes her voice so convincingly that it's hard not to root for her...continued

Full Review (669 words).

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

New York Times
In a book that so lovingly celebrates her autonomy, it’s again unclear why she’s consistently portrayed as powerless...and this lack of clarity makes these scenes feel gratuitous, as if they were superimposed on the Y.A. themes to reposition the book. Intentional or not (MacDonald is an otherwise respectful writer), given our cultural landscape, authors at every stage are obliged to reach a higher bar when illustrating female sexuality...Zelda deserves better.

Publishers Weekly
MacDonald avoids oversentimentality and a too-neat resolution, instead depicting Zelda's desire to shape her own life and be the hero of her own legend with frankness and humor. Readers will be inspired by the unforgettable Zelda.

Booklist
MacDonald's first novel is a truly original story filled with love, tragedy, heartache, and triumph, and his heroine is sure to inspire readers to be legendary themselves.

Library Journal
In this well-written and compelling novel, MacDonald conveys Zelda's particular challenges and succeeds in bringing her to life.

Kirkus Reviews
With Zelda, [MacDonald has] created an unforgettable character, one whose distinctive voice is entertaining and inspiring. Will appeal to fans of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. An engaging, inclusive debut.

Author Blurb Sabina Murray, PEN/Faulkner Award-winning author of The Caprices
Told with skillful empathy, When We Were Vikings explores a violent world as experienced by Zelda, a girl with a mental disability finding her power. Andrew David MacDonald is a writer to watch, an insightful new voice who invents in ways that feel deeply personal.

Author Blurb Tyrell Johnson, author of The Wolves of Winter
In When We Were Vikings, MacDonald has written one of the most unique heroines I've ever read. You can't help but root for, care about, and thoroughly enjoy Zelda and her quest to be legendary. A most-welcome and wonderful debut.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Female Viking Warriors

Viking Shield-maiden Lathgertha In Andrew David MacDonald's novel When We Were Vikings, the heroine becomes inspired to take charge of her life when presented with a magazine article about physical evidence of a female Viking warrior. The article refers to an archeological dig from the late 19th century in Birka, Sweden that unearthed the 10th century grave of a professional Viking fighter. For nearly a century, the body was assumed to be that of a man, until more recent studies proved that it was, in fact, a woman. Some academics argue that the determination that the woman was a warrior is premature, and that more information is required before that call can be made (i.e., just because she was found in the grave with the relics doesn't prove the articles of war were ...

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