This year I am continuing to participate in Book Bingo hosted by Theresa, Ashleigh and Amanda. For the month of April I am checking off the Friendship, Family and Love box with When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald. Published just this year, the book stars a loyal and brave heroine, Zelda, who loves Vikings because they are brave, strong and “stand up for people who can’t defend themselves.” Despite being small, she knows that “what matters is the size of your heart”, “that courage makes a hero” and that “being legendary was about taking all of the power that the gods have given you and making the most out of them.”
Told from the perspective of Zelda, the reader is treated to Zelda’s no nonsense and direct approach to life. Her rules for coming in and out are quite sensible.
- Take off shoes to stop outside dirt from going all over the apartment.
- Do not drop bags and things by the door, instead of taking them to the right place in the apartment.
She also has rules to help her negotiate the trickier parts of life.
- A smile means ‘thank you for doing something small that I liked’
- Fist bumps and dabs = respect
Zelda has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and the rules help her to know how to behave appropriately. But Zelda is 21 now and she is tired of everyone else making rules for her. She wants to live her own legend and make her own rules. With some help she gets a job at the library, “a very heroic place to work because librarians help people get stronger brains.”
When We Were Vikings is a heartfelt story about courage and the importance of family and friends. Having FAS, Zelda’s strength and capabilities are often underestimated. Her brother Gert is goodhearted and protective, even if a little scary with his shaved head and tattoos, but he can only see Zelda’s limitations. Although he often makes poor decisions, Zelda is his inspiration for attempting to make a better life for them. After their mother died from cancer and their father never bothered to return to them after a stint in prison, Gert and Zelda are their own tribe. Gert writes…
“For her the world is a place where courage and being part of a tribe means more than anything else – where we are all Vikings paddling together; to the beat of the same drum. And that’s the thing – all this time that I’ve been trying to protect Zelda, she’s been the only one in our tribe paddling. It’s time I got in Zelda’s boat and took a turn at the oars.”
Zelda also has her best friend AK47, so named because that’s how she speaks – loud and fast. AK47 is Gert’s ex-girlfriend but is a true friend to Zelda, giving her advice, taking her shopping for clothes for her job interview and risking her life to save her from a dangerous situation. It is a sad fact of our society that there are always those who have no qualms about taking advantage of someone like Zelda. A fact that those of us who have a family member with an intellectual disability know all too well. There are a few times in the book where we get that bad feeling, knowing that Zelda, loyal and courageous as she is, is walking into a dangerous situation.
When We Were Vikings also tackles the controversial issue of disability and sex. Zelda has a boyfriend, Marxy, who is also disabled, and like most young people, they wish to take their relationship to the next level. But most people wouldn’t announce their desire to have sex at the dinner table. Some readers may find this part of the story uncomfortable, but it does show the amount of planning, education and support required to assist young people with disabilities to participate in a life activity that most other people take for granted. Unfortunately for Zelda and Marxy, despite all the preparation, it doesn’t work out so well.
Sensitive readers need to be aware there is bit of choice language, but I really enjoyed When We Were Vikings. Zelda is a gutsy heroine who learns that “sometimes the parts of life that are best…are the things that we cannot put on a list” and proves to others that she is both great and legendary.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term used to describe impacts on the brain and body of individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol. FASD is a lifelong disability. Individuals with FASD will experience some degree of challenges in their daily living, and need support with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation, and social skills to reach their full potential. Each individual with FASD is unique and has areas of both strengths and challenges. (CanFASD)
You can find out more about FAS at NOFASD