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When we were Vikings [book club kit]
2020
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Library Journal Review
DEBUT In MacDonald's debut novel, we meet 21-year-old Zelda, who knows everything about Vikings--their lifestyle, legends, and language. Zelda was born on the fetal alcohol spectrum; as with Frankie Walters in Pauline Holdstock's Here I Am and Christopher John Francis Boone in Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, her story is told solely from the perspective of a narrator with special needs. To give structure to her life, Zelda follows rules and makes lists, but she discovers that life can be chaotic and complicated. Her brother, Gert, does his best to take care of and protect her even though he has problems of his own. MacDonald covers very difficult terrain: poverty, lack of health care, violence, child abuse, abandonment, and alcoholism. Yet Zelda prevails and becomes a hero in her own "legend." With her strong personality and a support system known as her "tribe," she makes the difficult journey toward independence. VERDICT In this well-written and compelling novel, MacDonald conveys Zelda's particular challenges and succeeds in bringing her to life.--Jacqueline Snider, Toronto
Publishers Weekly Review
MacDonald's offbeat debut introduces 21-year-old Zelda, a Viking-obsessed young woman with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, who lives with her gruff, tattooed older brother and guardian, Gert. While he attends college on a hardship scholarship, Zelda enjoys spending time with Gert's feisty ex-girlfriend AK47 and at the community center with her friends. She's also determined to have sex with her boyfriend, Marxy, if only his overprotective mother would get out of the way. Money is tight, and when Zelda discovers that Gert has resorted to some possibly illegal money-making methods, she decides to help, because helping the tribe is what a Viking warrior does. What follows is by turns funny and tragic as Zelda navigates a new job at the library, explores intimacy with Marxy, and puts herself firmly in the crosshairs of some decidedly unsavory people. The guileless Zelda, who narrates, is a joy, and her fierce love for her family drives her, even if it means running headlong into danger. 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. (Jan.)
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