Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead (Twitter, Insta)
Genre: contemporary/literary fiction
Setting: Manitoba/Peguis First Nation
I read it as a: paperback
Source: my own collection
Length: 224 pp
Published by: Arsenal Press (15 May 2018)
Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Jonny Appleseed is about a First Nations boy who is gay and trying to figure out how to be his best self. His mother wants him to come back to the Reservation for his stepfather’s funeral. Getting there requires more cash than he has on hand and so he works extra at his job, which is as an online sex worker. During the few days it takes him to save enough cash to get home, Jonny reflects on the experiences from his past that have helped to make him who he is right now, with a fever-dream kind of feel to the memories.
I am honestly not sure how to write a review of this book that really encompasses my thoughts without making me sound like either an idiot or an asshole. I loved this book, though, and loved learning more about the Cree Nation, where Jonny as well as author Joshua Whitehead are from. Truly, it isn’t possible for me to have known less about the Cree before beginning this book, so it was an interesting reading and learning experience.
I enjoyed learning some Cree words, though I absolutely have no idea how to say them. At first, I wanted a glossary because not all of the words used in the book were explained by context (or maybe I just didn’t get it), but then I decided that I liked that there was no glossary. It felt more real for the words just to be there, slipped into the narrative as they probably would be in normal conversation, and it is my job as a reader to figure them out. I always like learning about a culture that isn’t familiar to me and I appreciated the richness that was imparted through this story.
Many parts of this were heartbreaking. Not just because of how people treated Jonny as a Two-Spirit indigiqueer person, as he calls himself. But also because of how poor he and most of his acquaintances are, how hard they have to work to scrape together enough to buy something like a six-pack, or that they work hard just SO they can buy a six-pack or spirits.
I think this is a book everyone should read. It will make you laugh, cry, and most importantly, think and empathise.
Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):
- Home isn’t a space, it’s a feeling. … And it isn’t always comfortable – at least, not an NDN home. In fact, quite often, it’s uncomfortable. But it’s home because the bannock is still browning in the oven and your kokum is still making tea and eating Arrowroot biscuits. … And, given time, it becomes mobile – you can take those rituals with you, uproot your home as if it were a flower.
- But I just laughed and I think he got mad – I wish he knew that when an NDN laughs, it’s because they’re applying a fresh layer of medicine on an open wound.
- Don’t be thinking I don’t know who this is for – you like that Walker boy. I’m fine with that, son, Creator, he made you for a reason – you girl and you boy and that’s fine with me, but what’s not fine is you selling yourself short. You gotta leave if you wanna survive, and when you do you’re gonna need the steadiness of those hands, m’boy. You’re gonna need a rock and a whole lotta medicine.
- I am my own best medicine.
- But the way he told stories was so sincere that I couldn’t help but become enamoured. That was when I learned just how much power there is in stories …
- “Howa, he’s just snapped,” someone said, which made Jordan laugh. “Oh heck, that guy’s feeling no pain,” she said. That saying is weird, “feeling no pain.” I used to laugh at it too, but nowadays I think that they’re drunk because they’re feeling all kinds of pain.
- My kokum had always told me that sleep was not a waste of time, that it was a time for healing, so I slept long and hard, waiting for my blood to leech out its memories and for my body to rejuvenate.
- “But you – you my everything, m’boy, all this time you been my rock.” “No, Momma,” I replied, “you’re my rock. I’m just the one who broke you.” “Maybe,” she said, biting her lip. “But then you also the one who ground me. Ground me up into a medicine.”
- …a good story is always a healing ceremony, we recuperate, re-member, and rejuvenate those we storytell into the world…
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[…] a debut novel by a queer author: Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead. It’s hard for me not to like a person who refers to themself as an NDN […]