ARC Review – When We Were Vikings by Andrew MacDonald


YA, Contemporary Lit | 336 pages | 01.28.2020 | Scout Press


10What a debut novel?! MacDonald just entered the literary world with a bang.

We meet Zelda, a 21-year-old woman with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, who is in the throws of making sense of herself and the world around her. Socioeconomic struggles, as well as prejudiced views, affect her and her tribe deeply but Zelda tackles them with such heart and brilliance you can’t help but root for her every step of the way. She is a relatable and incredibly likable character. Her love for Vikings is contagious. The plotline is interesting but almost secondary in this unique coming-of-age novel.

There are a few features I enjoyed tremendously in this book. Zelda is unique and her inner monologue is captivating. Her brother, Gert, is incredibly complex. At times I wanted to hug him and tell him what a wonderful person he is. He has a big heart coupled with a profound sense of responsibility and ambition. At other times, I wanted to shake him and yell “what in the world were you thinking?”. While I haven’t had the same struggles as Gert I could acutely relate to this character. We have all been that age where our actions constantly switch between those of a responsible adult and a very lost teenager. The difference is that most of us weren’t also the sole provider for a disabled sibling at the same time. AK47 doesn’t just have a badass name but is all around a badass female role model. Her astute and innate knowledge of what’s right and wrong is only made better by her perseverance and complete willingness to stand up for her beliefs. AK47 and Gert struggle with their own issues and as a reader, we get to explore those through the eyes of Zelda, which gives this complex “love story” a rare twist. Those issues are also in stark contrast to Zelda’s own relationship issues – they’re both valid but of completely different consequences which gave this YA novel a very mature adult-like quality.

I think this is a wonderful book for many more reasons than I have mentioned but at its core, it beautifully captures the human condition and makes the reader think. Yes, there are problems with the way MacDonald presents an individual with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome at times but that doesn’t take away that this book made me feel simultaneously light-hearted and gut-wrenchingly heavy. This novel is one that takes time to digest. It prompts us to re-evaluate what we think, how we react, and how we want to proceed forward. And honestly, isn’t that one of the most profound experiences literature is supposed to bring about in us?!

I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for my advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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