Jonny Appleseed

Jonny AppleseedJonny 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…

 

#NotYourPrincess

#NotYourPrincess cover#NotYourPrincess edited by Lisa Charleyboy (Twitter, Insta) and Mary Beth Leatherdale (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: nonfiction, women’s voices

I read it as a: hardback

Source: library

Length: 109 pp

Published by: Annick Press (12 Sept 2017)

A collection of poetry, essays, art, and songs by Native American women, this slim book contains multitudes. Some of the entries look into the past, into abuses and humiliations the creators or their family endured, and some look forward into a more hopeful future. A nicely eclectic collection.

I like the glimpse into the experiences of American Indian/First Nations women. It is horrifying how badly they have been treated and difficult to read. But I think the best way to learn more and educate myself about things I have no experience with is by reading the experiences of those who have gone through it. It sounds trite to write it out like that, but it is a fundamental part of how I read now; I do not know the experiences of Indigenous women or Black women, and I can’t really understand what it is like to experience the racism or fear or humiliation that so many of them have endured. Reading about it in their own words is the best way to learn.

I liked how varied this compilation was. However, I found the actual format to be off-putting. It is a physically huge book, like a giant magazine or something, and is impossible to stuff into a purse. If I were a student wearing a large backpack everyday, that would be one thing. But the dimensions of this were 9×11.5 inches and it’s just…big. Also, while the individual contributions were all excellent, the book as a whole didn’t feel like it had a proper flow to it to blend and merge from one section to the next very easily. It actually felt somewhat incomplete, as though there were pieces missing from each section as well as from the overall book. It sadly makes me a little hesitant to pick up another book edited by Charleyboy. 

I would give it 3 stars in honor of the women who contributed to it, but the book itself as a whole would probably only get 2. 

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • Patriarchy is quite simply the systematic oppression and regulation of women’s bodies, minds, and spirits. … In Indigenous culture, Indigenous women and girls are sacred, known as life-givers, as independent, as autonomous, as decision-makers. (“Reclaiming Indigenous Women’s Rights”, Nahanni Fontaine (Anishinaabe), p 25)
  • “I rather you be terrified than think,” she warns, “that you can beat the wrath of Mother Nature.” (“Falling,” Natanya Ann Pulley (Navajo), p 36)
  • You are allowed to cry/ You are allowed to scream/ But you are not allowed to give up./ If you ever need a hero/ Become one. (“Dear Past Self”, Isabella Fillspipe (Oglala Lakota), p 98-99)

 

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse

27778554._sx318_In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Genre: children’s fiction

I read it as an: ebook

Source: library

Length: 176 pp

Published by: Harry Abrams (10 Nov 2015)

This children’s novel follows Jimmy McLean as he travels with his grandfather to learn about his famous ancestor, Crazy Horse. Jimmy has a hard time with bullies who mock him for not being full-blooded Lakota. Jimmy’s mother is Lakota but his father is biracial Lakota and Irish. His grandfather takes Jimmy on a road trip so they can visit the sites of Crazy Horse’s most famous moments. In the process, Jimmy learns something of strength, honor, and taking care of people, including yourself. 

I enjoyed this slim novel well enough. I tend not to read children’s fiction much; even the books my 9 year old reads are generally YA. So the writing felt overly simple to me with some information missing that I would have liked to have. However, I had to remind myself that it IS for children and they may not be able to read books that deeply yet. It was fun to learn more about Crazy Horse, especially from a Native American perspective. So much history is written by the victors, so the version of Crazy Horse we tend to get in school here is that he was a rabble-rouser and problematic for the white soldiers. I always took that with a grain of salt anyway, but it is still nice to hear about the story from a different perspective. 

I read this for task #22 of the Read Harder challenge: A children’s or middle grade book that has won a diversity award since 2009.

Favorite lines:

  • “A long time ago,” Grandpa said as he and Jimmy rode down the highway, “people and animals could understand each other’s languages. A person could understand what a hawk said. The hawk could understand people. But things changed. Animals and people don’t understand each other anymore. That’s sad.”
  • “When things like that happen, like to your dad and Crazy Horse, it’s okay for tough guys to cry. Don’t you ever forget that.”
  • Jimmy looked around at the hilly landscape. He had the same strange feeling he’d had at the Hundred in the Hands battlefield. He felt like he should be quiet or talk only in a whisper.
  • “That’s the sad part about war and battles,” he concluded. “Doesn’t matter who you are, what side you’re on. It’s still sad, no matter what kind of uniform you wear or the color of your skin. It’s still sad.”
  • Sometimes you have to do things no matter how scary it is, or how scared you are.
  • …that’s what being a warrior was all about: facing the scary things no matter how afraid you were. That’s what courage is.

Trail of Lightning

36373298Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World) by Rebecca Roanhorse

I read it as a: paperback

Source: library

Length: 287 pp

Publisher: Saga Press

Year: 2018

The ice caps have melted, causing the Big Water. The continents are completely reshaped and billions globally have died. On what’s left of the American continent, the Dine nation has survived, and the gods have returned to the land and walk among humans again. Someone is also creating monsters who are roaming the land, killing innocent people and wreaking havoc and terror. Enter Maggie Hoskie, monsterslayer. She is able to draw on ancient, powerful skills of her tribe, a rare gift, or curse, depending on who you ask. Maggie’s particular skills make her very good at killing, which she uses to kill monsters and Bad Men alike. She soon gets swept up in a job for the trickster Coyote to find a tool that is being used to create the monsters, destroy the person who has it, and prevent the tool from being used to make any more monsters. Maggie is aided by Kai, a young medicine man who has powers far beyond anything she can understand. Maggie has to decide if her skills are the gift Kai says they are or the curse she’s been taught, and whether she is destined to roam the world alone or if perhaps there is room for someone to love a monsterslayer.

NATIVE AMERICAN SCI-FI, you guys!!

This was such a fun book! More than that, it was terrific to see such a rich mythology woven into science fiction. The creation myth of the Dine tribe has been completely reimagined so that the world we live in, the fifth world, is being destroyed and recreated into the sixth world. I loved that Roanhorse used Native mythology in this way. I am somewhat familiar with the Navajo creation story because I teach world mythology, but even if I hadn’t known it, reading this book would have given at least a very brief overview of it, which is great. Various characters from mythology make appearances, most notably the trickster Coyote.

Maggie is an interesting character. She is damaged and uncertain because of her past. She is confident in her skills, but she hates having them. She feels unworthy of being loved, whether as a lover or just as a friend, yet she makes an excellent and loyal friend. Kai is, in many ways, a stereotypical pretty boy – confident, manipulative, and kind when it serves his purpose. Yet he is also complex because his kindness is actually genuine, his confidence is a bit of a disguise, and his manipulation comes at a price. Throughout the novel, the question arises – who are the real monsters? The ones Maggie hunts or is she one of them?

A couple things I do wish the book had are a map with the new continent borders. We get descriptions, but it’s always nice to see it as well. A glossary of the Navajo words would also be super helpful. Mostly, you can figure out the word based on context, but there were a couple that I couldn’t get. Having a glossary is nice to be able to flip back to. A pronunciation guide, if possible, would be even cooler.

I loved this book and can’t wait to read the second one in the series!