Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Review by: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

I wish he knew that when an NDN laughs, it’s because they are applying a fresh layer of medicine on an open wound.

Jonny Appleseed is an urban NDN - young, Two Spirit / Indigiqueer and a glitter princess. He has left the rez in northern Manitoba and made a life for himself in Winnepeg, earning his living creating sexual fantasies on camera for other gay men.

I’m like an Etch-a-Sketch – every cell in my body is yours to define.

Homophobia was rampant on the rez, especially among the men. And Winnepeg is known as ‘the most racist city in Canada.’ Jonny has spent his life playing straight on the rez in order to be an NDN and playing white in the city in order to be queer. There are perhaps only three people in the world who accept him as himself – his mother, his Kokum (grandmother) and his childhood friend and sometime lover, Thias.

Funny how an NDN “love you” sounds more like “I’m in pain with you.”

But Kokum is dead and Thias is in love with a girl called Jordan. Then his mother calls to say that his stepdad, Roger – ‘a pig-headed, alcoholic, homophobic sonuva’ – has died, and she wants him home for the funeral. So now he has a couple of days to earn enough money for his rent AND to pay for the journey home.

As the story flips between Jonny’s memories of growing up on the Rez and his present life in Winnepeg, Whitehead plays with language as if he’s inventing it afresh. He references January Jones, The Revenant or Elle from Stranger Things as lightly as he references the elements of Oji-Cree beliefs and traditions salvaged from the wreckage of the past.

This is two generations on from the residential school system that ripped through indigenous communities throughout Canada, but the wounds are still open. Jonny ‘s life is a desperate, clinging-to-the-edge existence. And yet there is a joy and a tenderness and a depth of love that emerges from the hurt and sorrow.

A powerful, utterly modern story that will take you by the scruff of the neck and shake your preconceptions. Long-listed for the 2018 Giller Prize.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Break by Katherena Vermette, Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Popoola

Avoid If You Dislike: Unflinching descriptions of gay sex

Perfect Accompaniment: Soup and bannock (or something with hamburger helper!)

Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQ Fiction, Indigenous Fiction

Available on Amazon

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