Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead, 2018, Arsenal Pulp Press (Vancouver), 223 pages
Joshua Whitehead is an Oji-Cree/nehiyaw, Two-Spirit /Indigiqueer member of Peguis First Nation (Treaty). He is also the author of full metal-indigiqueer and winner of the Governor General’s History Award for the Indigenous Arts and Stories Challenges in 2016. He is currently doing a PhD in Indigenous Literatures and Cultures. With such impressive credentials, it might come as a surprise that his writing is anything but stuffy. In fact, it is as raw, poignant and poetic as the non-conformist sexual and outside-the-law survival escapades of Jonny, his literary alter ego.
The reader meets Jonny trying to scrape up enough money to make it back from the big city to the Rez for his stepfather’s funeral. As a cyber-sex and sometimes-in-the-flesh sex worker, he has to work very hard – and very fast – to make it back home in time for the burial, if not for the visitation. In fact, he has to pull an all-nighter to be able to afford the four-hour ride with a friend. In between gigs, there are flashbacks to his early childhood, his coming to terms with his unconventional sexuality as well as with the harassment he endured on the Reservation. He also has to process his grief over the loss of the dearest person in his life: his kokum, or maternal grandmother. He finally makes it back to the Rez and, hopefully, to closure.
Life on the reservation is hard. So is life outside it. Rez boys have it as tough as urban Nates. But family life, while not idyllic, is very much there. So is conviviality, which flourishes in good and bad times. Jonny’s kokum is the matriarch who holds the community together.
Jonny says it best:
We’re all here telling our stories in NDN time.
But the ironic thing I’ve learned about NDN time is that it’s an elixir of an excuse and a toxin of a measurement.
It’ll kill you, you know, if you love it too dearly.
And that’s the truth.