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Jonny Appleseed

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"You're gonna need a rock and a whole lotta medicine" is a mantra that Jonny Appleseed, a young Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer, repeats to himself in this vivid and utterly compelling novel. Off the reserve and trying to find ways to live and love in the big city, Jonny becomes a cybersex worker who fetishizes himself in order to make a living. Self-ordained as an NDN glitter princess, Jonny has one week before he must return to the "rez," and his former life, to attend the funeral of his stepfather. The next seven days are like a fevered dream: stories of love, trauma, sex, kinship, ambition, and the heartbreaking recollection of his beloved kokum (grandmother). Jonny's world is a series of breakages, appendages, and linkages--and as he goes through the motions of preparing to return home, he learns how to put together the pieces of his life. Jonny Appleseed is a unique, shattering vision of Indigenous life, full of grit, glitter, and dreams.

224 pages, Paperback

First published May 15, 2018

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About the author

Joshua Whitehead

8 books667 followers
Joshua Whitehead is an Oji-Cree, Two-Spirit storyteller and academic from Peguis First Nation on Treaty 1 territory in Manitoba. He is currently working toward a Ph.D. in Indigenous literatures and cultures at the University of Calgary on Treaty 7 territory. His most recent book of poetry, Full-Metal Indigiqueer, was shortlisted for the 2017 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry. In 2016, his poem “mihkokwaniy” won Canada’s History Award for Aboriginal Arts and Stories (for writers aged 19–29), which included a residency at the Banff Centre. He has been published widely in Canadian literary magazines such as Prairie Fire, EVENT, Arc Poetry Magazine, CV2, Red Rising Magazine, and Geez Magazine’s Decolonization issue.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,685 reviews
Profile Image for Lala BooksandLala.
500 reviews62k followers
March 24, 2020
This was just the slice of life narrative I really dig.

Book 15 of 30 for my 30 day reading challenge.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,513 reviews2,458 followers
April 9, 2019
I've never read anything like this, and I just loved it: Joshua Whitehead wrote a coming-of-age story about Jonny, a young 2SQ (Two-Spirit, queer Indigenous) person who leaves the rez to make a life for himself in the city. There, Jonny is supporting himself as a sex worker and gets caught up in a love triangle with Tias and Jordan who are also Native American (if you want to know their gender, just read the book! :-)). When Jonny's stepfather dies, he has to make enough money to travel back to the rez in order to support his mourning mother...

This novel shines with its fantastic protagonist and first-person narrator who, while trying to come to terms with who he is, contemplates questions of family, home, tradition, sexuality, love and friendship - and Jonny is not the passive type: For all the setbacks, pain and hardship he has endured, he is still someone who dares to feel life with all its ups and downs, who throws himself into it, who unapologetically lives the way he wants to. All characters in this novel are highly complex, with their personal tragedies and traumas, but also their own dreams and aspirations.

I have to admit that first I didn't know what 2SQ was, but there's an interesting text by Whitehead which he wrote when he withdrew from the Lambda Award that had nominated his book full-metal indigiqueer in the "Trans Poetry" category. Whitehead explained: "I recognize the difficulty of categorizing Two-Spirit (2SQ) within Western conceptualizations of sex, sexuality, and gender. I cling to Two-Spirit because it became an honour song that sung me back into myself as an Indigenous person, a nehiyaw (Cree), an Oji-Cree; I have placed it into my maskihkîwiwat, my medicine bag, because it has healed and nourished me whenever I needed it. To be Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer, for me, is a celebration of the fluidity of gender, sex, sexuality, and identities, one that is firmly grounded within nehiyawewin (the Cree language) and nehiyaw world-views."

This quote also sheds light on "Jonny Appleseed", where Whitehead frequently includes Cree words and talks about Oji-Cree traditions and how they shape the protagonist and his life both on the rez and in the city. This is not a didactic book though - the reader learns about Oji-Cree culture while learning about Jonny's thoughts and emotions, which is a realistic representation of how our upbringing and cultural contexts influence our personalities.

I don't feel like I can write a review that does this novel justice. This is a book that makes you feel like you can connect to and understand people who live in a country you never visited and in a culture you know almost nothing about. You close the book and you start missing Jonny, because his humanity and his humor transcend all that separates you from him. Joshua Whitehead needs to write more books ASAP.
Profile Image for CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian.
1,132 reviews1,390 followers
January 17, 2021
What a beautiful, sad, funny book. It's the most poignant reminder I've had in a while about how powerful and effecting a first person narrative can be. Jonny, the two-spirit main character, carries the book with his raw, hilarious, insightful voice. The story meanders through his memories, mostly of his kokum, mom, and his great first love Tias, while in the present Jonny prepares to go back to the rez for his mom's boyfriend's funeral.

Favourite quotes:

"Humility is just a humiliation you loved so much it transformed."

"I texted him back with a simple 'No.' I made an emphasis to punctuate my text. In the digital universe, a punctuated sentence is as powerful a slap as slamming down the landline."

"Funny how an NDN 'love you' sounds more like 'I'm in pain with you.'"

Full review on my blog!
Profile Image for Gerhard.
1,053 reviews528 followers
June 7, 2019
I am so chuffed that Joshua Whitehead won the Gay Fiction category in the 2019 Lambda Literary Awards! Hugely deserved. And kudos to Arsenal Pulp Press for bagging additional awards for Lesbian Fiction (The Tiger Flu) and Transgender Fiction (Little Fish).

I recently read an article by Jonathan Rauch, Contributing Editor at The Atlantic, entitled ‘It’s Time to Drop the LGBT From LGBTQ’. Rauch’s basic argument is that we need a new term that effectively humanises all sexual minorities, as opposed to reducing them to gloops of alphabet soup.

To some extent, the very artificiality and awkwardness of the acronymic acrobatics speak to their ecumenical aspirations. Unlike designations popularized by oppressors (Negro, Oriental) or based on national or ethnic particularism (Italian, Jew, wasp), LGBTQ is pointedly coalitional and inclusive, and we chose it ourselves. In that respect, its intended message is admirable. But it carries an unintended message as well: an embrace of the identity politics and group separatism that have soured millions of Americans on progressivism and egalitarianism.

And we all know where that has ended up, with Trump chipping away at hard-won civil liberty freedoms and victories on a daily basis. I think this point is brought home quite forcefully by a novel such as this, where Joshua Whitehead manages the miraculous task of placing the reader within the skin of a “Two-Spirit and queer Indigenous folx”.

Jonny’s positioning in the alphabet soup of contemporary identity and gender politics is, er, a bit fluid, but that is precisely Whitehead’s point. We need to understand everybody as people, and not as acronyms.

(Speaking of which, there is no explanation in the book for ‘NDN’, which lead me on a rambling but highly informative Google search … so perhaps that is part of the author’s project here as well, to force the reader to investigate further, and get out of his or her comfort zone a bit more.)

The writing here is gorgeous. You can’t simply quote a single sentence, but rather long swathes of ecstatic prose. So I just gave up, as virtually my entire Kindle version was turning yellow. Colour, ethnicity, and cultural heritage are major themes here, which resonated particularly with me in a South African context.

Whitehead is too savvy a writer to wear his polemic on his sleeve though, so instead hides it in the secret folds and orifices of Jonny’s body, who comments at the beginning that “There are tons of unfuckable holes in me that need to be filled.”

One would expect such a story to have a traditional and conservative non-happy ending, but again Whitehead is effortlessly subversive in the way he subverts reader expectations. This is a beautiful and important book that demands not only to be read, but to be lived out as a manifesto of tolerance and equality.
Profile Image for Emmkay.
1,184 reviews76 followers
December 24, 2018
Some beautiful and poignant writing, and also some very funny lines, in this story about a two-spirited young indigenous man in Winnipeg, trying to earn enough money webcamming to catch a ride back to the rez for a funeral. It felt kind of like a one-man Fringe show in its tone and its focus on the protagonist - I would have appreciated more narrative momentum (and maybe fewer bodily fluids and smells, but hey, that’s me). 2.5.
Profile Image for Jessie.
259 reviews167 followers
August 31, 2018
Stop everything you are doing and read this book. It’s everything I love about Indigenous storytelling. About a young Oji-Cree two spirit Indigequeer NDN in the week leading up to his stepfather’s funeral, this book is a gift. I appreciate the contemporary nature of this book, both in it’s sense of now (the technology, the terminology, what’s current in the world of pop culture), but also in it’s sense of place (it’s the world exactly now, it’s Winnipeg and Peguis exactly now). The other thing about this book is that characters are so deeply human. Shit is real, and shit is fucked up. Colonialism has done a number on folks. There is abuse. There are apprehensions of children. There is addiction. There is so much death. But people are so loved and so loving. Everyone contains multitudes. It’s a love story about being human in the very real inequity the world has thrust upon Indigenous people. This book is also unapologetic fucking and blood and sweat and lust and semen and queerness and it’s visceral and blood and guts and shit and it happens in contexts and at ages that you don’t see in books everyday. It sits in the margins, it doesn’t problematize the problematic, it keeps things complex and multitudinous and it is not comfortable. It’s a true novel, and it’s a loving novel, and it’s a profound novel. And you have to read it.
Profile Image for NILTON TEIXEIRA.
825 reviews257 followers
April 25, 2021
I think that I wasn’t the targeted audience for this book.
It does not matter how much I enjoyed the writing style, but I did not care for the storyline and I thought that it was pointless.
I know that this book was nominated for several prizes and won Canada Reads, and for that I had huge expectations.
I was extremely disappointed.
I was expecting a groundbreaking LGBTQ drama.
I think that this is the first time that I read a book about a two-spirited First Nation’s character.
But clearly it wasn’t for me.
I know that I’m in the minority, but I can’t lie about my experience just because this book was so well praised (Canada Reads, Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada Counsel For The Arts aka Governors General for Literature).
At least it is a very fast read (224 pages and 54 chapters).
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
August 31, 2021
I'll put it simply: Joshua Whitehead's Jonny Appleseed is such a vibrant, beautiful read.

I saw some Bookstagram friends reading this a few months ago and I was intrigued, but when my friend Lindsay bought me a copy I couldn’t wait to read it. This is such a unique, gorgeously written queer book which really opened my eyes to what it’s like growing up as a queer Native American.

Jonny is a two-spirit/Indigiqueer young man who is currently living and trying to make it in the big city, away from the reservation. He makes a living as a cybersex worker, fulfilling his clients’ Native American fantasies, but he is in love with his childhood best friend, who is struggling with his own sexuality and trying to fulfill traditional male roles.

Jonny has to get back to the rez for his stepfather’s funeral. This book, told in nonlinear fashion, follows his journey home and his efforts to make enough money to get there, but it is interspersed with flashbacks of his growing up, his special relationship with his kokum (grandmother), and what it’s like to grow up Indigiqueer both on and off the rez.

This book doesn’t pull any punches—it’s frank in describing sex and the occasional violence that he faced. But Whitehead’s storytelling draws you in and leaves you feeling the same kaleidosope of emotions that Jonny does. He’s such a vivid character and I loved following his journey.⁣

Jonny Appleseed is not a book for everyone but it’s one I’ll definitely remember.

Check out my list of the best books I read in 2020 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2021/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2020.html.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.

Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.
Profile Image for Krista.
1,367 reviews542 followers
November 22, 2018
It turns out that Johnny Appleseed is some American folk legend who became famous by planting apple trees in West Virginia. I didn't understand why we'd sung about him in camp – I wanted to know about Louis Riel, Chief Peguis, and Buffy St. Marie, but instead we were honouring some white man throwing apple seeds in frontier America. Apparently he was this moral martyr figure who remained a virgin in exchange for the promise of two wives in heaven. Oh, and he loved animals, and I heard he saved some horse by hand-feeding him blades of grass, Walt Whitman-style. I would bet my left nut that he was a slave owner too and planted his seeds on Treaty territory. All I know is this: apples are crazy expensive on the rez and they had now become bad things in my head.

Two-Spirit, Indigiqueer author Joshua Whitehead has created a really remarkable character with Jonny Appleseed: knowing himself to be different from the other boys while growing up on the rez, Jonny eventually declares his own Two-Spirit nature – which comes as no surprise to his rock-solid mother and doting kookum – and after high school, moves to Winnipeg where he hopes to find love. As the story starts, Jonny's stepdad has died, his Mom wants Jonny to return home for the funeral, and the only way he can hustle up the money is to turn a few more tricks as a (mostly cyber-based) “NDN glitter princess”. Over the time it takes for Jonny to make enough money, the narrative fluidly traces Jonny's history and present, showing pain and love and friendship and family; Jonny has had it hard without becoming hard.

Throughout his life, Jonny has had one good friend, Thias – a “friend with benefits” who claims he isn't gay – and throughout the story, this relationship is Jonny's rock:

Instead of saying we liked or loved each other, we just lay there on our backs, our brown skin shiny in the rosy light that poured in from the evening sun. We surveyed each others' body: him seeing the scar above my clavicle from when I fell down the stairs as a kid, and me seeing the patch of hair missing from his scalp. I knew then that I loved him.

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

The book is full of these quotable lines, but also full of pop culture references, quirky observations, and social commentary (it's not overtly political, but it's apparent that history and politics have shaped reality for Jonny and those he knows). It also has plenty of graphic sex, violence, and addictions. And still: Jonny isn't broken or defeated; he likes to walk around Walmart and imagine how he'd furnish his own house some day. The most vital part of Jonny Appleseed is best described by Joshua Whitehead himself in the afterword:

I write this book with the goal of showing you that Two-Spirit and queer Indigenous folx are not a “was”, that we are not the ethnographic and romanticized notations of “revered mystic” or “shamanic”, instead we are an is and a coming. In nehiyawewin, there are no masculine or feminine attributes, instead we have animations in which we hold all our relations. We are accountable to those kin, be they inanimate or non-human, or be they unabashedly queer, femme, bottom, pained, broken. We put our most vulnerable in the centre and for once I do just that: 2S folx and Indigenous women are centred here. I hold our relations accountable for us for once. Jonny has taught me a lot of things but there are two that I want to share with you: one, a good story is always a healing ceremony, we recuperate, re-member, and rejuvenate those we storytell into the world; and two, if we animate our pain, it becomes something we can make love to.

Like many others, I've heard the term “Two-Spirit” and imagined I had an idea of what that meant, so it was very interesting to me to read a story that focussed on what the lived experience of a Two-Spirit person is actually like. This book is both an eye-opener and a thought-provoking read; I'll round up to four stars.
Profile Image for Tyler  Bell.
187 reviews37 followers
July 27, 2021
4.25/5 Stars


Raw, emotional and beautiful!



I saw this book making its rounds online here on Goodreads and on Instagram and it really intrigued me. I was at the bookstore about a week ago and saw it front and centre as I walked in. Right then and there I decided to take it off the shelf and buy and read it immediately. Definitely was the right decision!

This is a very special novel. It follows an Indigenous, Two-Spirit, and queer person named Jonny Appleseed as he recounts moments in his life living on the rez and his sacred moments with his family, mainly his grandma (kokum).

I can tell that Joshua Whitehead put so much passion into this novel. Every line in this novel was utilized to its full potential. He never wasted any space. He writing was gritty yet beautiful as he describes life on the rez and in the city of Winnipeg.

As short as this book was, the characters were fully realized. I loved the moments between Jonny and his grandma and how much love and respect was between them.

This is one of the only books that I actually annotated and highlighted because I found a lot of lines just so beautiful, impactful and powerful. I'll share a few right here:

"One fact I'd learn is that leaving always hurts - home isn't a space, it's a feeling" - pg. 20

" 'Jonny, m'boy, your kokum old but she ain't dull. You's napêwiskwewisehot, m'boy, Two-Spirit. You still my beautiful baby grandkid, no matter what you want to look like or who you want to like' " - pg. 48

"There are a million parts of me that don't add up, a million parts of me that signal immodesty. When I think of masculinity, I think of femininity" - pg. 79

I could go on and on but I'd probably recite most of the book haha.

I also thought the discussions around queerness, especially in a city, to be really well done. There so much prejudice, racism, gatekeeping and amongst other things that's still present in the queer community and I'm glad to see a book that's getting more popular call them out on it.

The only thing that prevented me from giving this 5 Stars is because there really isn't any solid plot. It's essentially an episodic journey through Jonny's life juxtaposed against him having to go back home for a funeral and see his family again, which was awesome! However, personally, I like a book to have a more plot to drive the story. But again, I also think that maybe that wasn't what this book was trying to do, and I can see that. For enjoyment sake, I like to have a beginning, middle and end to my novels.

As a Canadian, I want to make it apart of my reading to pick up Indigenous stories and works. When I stepped into the bookstore to purchase this, the first stack of books right when you walk in were all of Indigenous authors. I feel like it's really important to support Indigenous works and authors, especially now.

I highly recommend this to everyone. It's one of the most important books I've ever read. I can't wait to read more from Whitehead!
Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 12 books228 followers
October 7, 2022
A powerful fiction debut. I first met Jonny in the pages of a literary journal (Malahat), and was very pleased to see he was going to be able to roam through his own book.

Jonny's voice is strong and visceral, and there is much going on in this novel. Worth reading and re-reading. Strong debut novel from a new voice.

In March 11, 2021 this book won the Canada Reads competition. Congrats to Joshua Whitehead and Arsenal Pulp Press!
Profile Image for Darryl Suite.
495 reviews381 followers
April 11, 2021
Just wow. Ever read a novel that felt almost too real?? This is how I felt about this book. It all feels so true, I wonder if this story is autobiographical. That doesn't matter tbh. Natural, beautiful, and made up of all the messiness and chaos of real life. I can't wait to reread this one day. 

"Funny how an NDN 'love you' sounds more like, 'I'm in pain with you.'"
Profile Image for David.
659 reviews315 followers
March 11, 2021
Jonny Appleseed is a two-sprit, full-metal indigiqueer, NDN glitter princess who leaves the Rez to make his way in the 'peg hustling as a cybersex worker. He's getting men off online, whether they're closeted and curious, or nourishing some connection to idealized Native sensibilities and the spiritual connection they believe Indigenous people have to the land, or simply want to explore some Village People Indian fetish, Jonny deals with them all. Even more so now as he tries to make enough money to return to the Rez to support his mother after the death of his stepfather.

Jonny discovers his sexuality watching Queer as Folk at 8 years of age. But that sort of gay seemed awfully white, evoking a certain class and body type. Even queer is tied to colonialism, queer rights and Stonewall while two-spirit can trace its arc back to the indigenous people inhabiting the land for generations before. But it doesn't make it any easier for Jonny on the rez. And yet there are glimmers of tenderness, his childhood friend Tias and their love weaving in and out of their lives.

Congratulations to indie Arsenal Pulp Press for having two of their books in the showdown to the Canada Reads 2021 final and congratulations to Joshua Whitehead's Jonny Appleseed for taking home the prize this year!
Profile Image for Wendy.
1,640 reviews557 followers
March 5, 2021
I read this novel for Canada Reads 2021.
The theme this year is "One Book To Transport Us" and I felt this story certainly did that.
Jonny Appleseed tells his own powerful story! He is a young Two Spirit/Indigiqueer who becomes a cybersex worker once he leaves the reserve, to live in the big city. His story is one of love, sex, trauma, family, ambition and the touching memories of his beloved kokum (grandmother).
His youthful resilience was captivating and his unique story will stay with me for a long time.

74 reviews2 followers
October 11, 2018
Parts of this book were beautiful and much of the writing was superb but it lacked structure and I often felt like, as a reader, I was being tossed around among a number of different storylines without any landmarks or clues to help knit together the chronology of the events. Portions of this book were likely difficult and harsh on purpose but I felt the work as a whole would have been more powerful if it had been more coherent. It read as a stream of conscious self-reflection piece.
Profile Image for Jerrie.
986 reviews130 followers
March 25, 2021
There is not much plot here, but I enjoyed the rawness of the writing and the depth of the character enough that the lack of plot wasn’t a big issue for me. It is a story about a queer, indigenous youth trying to find a way through the poverty, racism, and homophobia in his life. Loved the writing and the author did a great job reading this. I also loved the way the character showed his deep respect and fondness for the women in his life.
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,420 reviews391 followers
December 17, 2021
A coming of self story of living as a two-spirit indigenous person in Canada. I really liked this one, although "like" makes light of all Jonny moves through in the world as a sex worker, as two-spirit, as queer, as indigenous, of the ways they deals with anti-indigenous people in the white world and with homophobic people in their indigenous community, and how the apocalyptic nature of the past continues to influence and inflect the preset. But despite all this, Jonny is still here, and still super duper horny.

So, so horny.
Profile Image for MissBecka Gee.
1,492 reviews596 followers
December 22, 2021
Joshua Whitehead has a brazen style of writing that I am here for!
Completely open and remorseless in his storytelling.
He delivered the most beautiful writing, in some of the most disturbing moments.
I cannot wait to read more of his work!
122 reviews
April 13, 2018
There are so many things in this novel that make it beautifully queer. Its 2-spirit protagonist; its nonlinear timeline that intentionally meanders through past stories of family and tradition, trauma and survival; its descriptions of eroticism and the discovery and exploration of sexuality ... I could go on.

Joshua Whitehead is a master of words. There were at least a dozen killer sentences that I felt compelled to highlight as I was reading, particularly because I felt they captured the experiences of marginalized folks in a way that is often only voiced in nonfictional spheres.

It’s safe to say that I ended up devouring this book a lot faster than I expected to. It disrupted my reading in incredible ways, and really created what felt like a transgressive fictional space that edged on uncomfortable for me, but never to the point of alienation.

I will not say that the book felt completely satisfying. There were plot elements that I struggled to come to grips with because they seemed to leave certain important decisions and emotions and reactions unsaid or unchallenged. I don’t know if that is to be placed on the author or the character, though, and also I wonder if such things were intentional. It certainly affected my ultimate impression of the book, but it didn’t necessarily impede my enjoyment of it.
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
667 reviews587 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
September 4, 2018
This read like a shitty first draft, alas. There were enough tender, raw sentences scattered throughout the first several chapters to keep me going, mesmerized by a wee bit of evidence of an exciting new voice. But after that, unfortunately, it read like slapdash notes toward a novel rather than fully realized fictional prose—and notes published in haphazard order at that. Bailed 60% of the way in.
Profile Image for Emmett.
261 reviews88 followers
October 7, 2021
This was perfect, I loved it, and you should read [listen to] it.

In the acknowledgements, the author states there were two things he learned in writing the novel-
1) A good story is always a healing ceremony.
2) If we animate our pain, it becomes something we can make love to.

If that doesn't make you want to read it, I will just say...

While the protagonist may not have had the best lot in life and certainly had some trauma to work through, his story is approached with a heavy dose of humor- heightened by the author's narration. Moments in the novel range from heartbreaking to heartwarming to laugh-out-loud funny.

Are there X-men references? Yes.
Is Emily Dickinson referred to as a 'dreary old white lady'? Yes.
Is the writing absolutely gorgeous? Yes.
Is there any reason you should not read this? Only if you are super sensitive about sex.

Again, highly recommend the audiobook as the narration is topnotch. 💯✨💓
Profile Image for Mj.
515 reviews69 followers
January 16, 2021
Jonny Appleseed was a long-list nominee one high profile Canadian fiction award list and a shortlist nominee on another. Given the minimal number of nominations on these lists and the wealth of talented authors in Canada, this double nomination got my attention, especially since Jonny Appleseed is Joshua Whitehead’s debut novel.

The book is fiction but reads like a memoir - one of my favourite genres. Both the primary fictional character and the author are two-spirited indigenous individuals. Based on the details and message of the story, I am quite certain that the author’s experiences were major influences in this book.

I have read other books by two-spirited authors and Jonny is “more out there and flamboyant” than the others. Sex is a huge driving force for Jonny, second only to his family. Both consumed much of his waking thoughts and hours. Be forewarned, reading about Jonny’s lifestyle may be a revelation for monogamous heterosexual readers - a good revelation nonetheless. Beneath the overt, extroverted sexuality is a vulnerable, sweet boy who is learning about himself, his own and other bodies.

Besides being two-spirited (both male and female beings/genders), Jonny also seems to have two distinct personalities. One is outgoing and dominant and controls others using his sexuality as a means of manipulation. Another is a sensitive, susceptible, vulnerable man-child still wanting and needing his mother's and grandmother’s attention, love and approval. He particularly loves his kokum (grandmother) who was his primary caregiver growing up. She loves him unconditionally and he spends a lot of time with her until she passes.

Above all, like most if not all people, Jonny wants to feel loved. He uses sex as a pseudo way to “feel” loved and also to satisfy his real physical longings and urges. Like many teens, he is discovering both his own and others’ bodies motivated by sexual urges and raging hormones.

In Jonny Appleseed, I learned a lot about indigenous life both on and off the reservation. Both reinforced the predominance of drinking, drugs, violence, sex, racism, rapes, poverty, abandoned children, and single parenthood etcetera. It is not a pleasant situation but unfortunately, it is a very true his/herstory about how indigenous lives have been negatively impacted both on and off reservations primarily the result of damage caused by the colonialism of indigenous people by new white settlers.

Jonny has a big heart, is generous in love, sharing and gifted in many ways, particularly in acting out and primping. He seems so full of joie de vivre on the outside and very full of love for those close to him. Readers learn about his inside as well. Jonny’s self-worth doesn’t seem to be about self-loathing as much as deep down feeling empty with a huge void. He keeps trying to fill this void with all kinds of external methods in order to feel whole and loved. Jonny is unhappy on the “inside” and keeps trying to use everything on the “outside” to make up for it.

It is not surprising how negative and empty that Jonny feels, having been born into circumstances of significant negative racial and gender prejudice. After the loss of those closest to him (his support system, especially his kokuk), his future does not look good. We never do learn what happens to him. We just get small snippets of his life. Readers can only hope that Jonny finds a soul mate and someone who reciprocally loves him unconditionally. Maybe his best friend Tias will choose to be honest and open with himself and others.

I was uplifted by Jonny’s ability to make the best of the hand he was dealt but saddened that such a “sweet, young boy” (my initial and overall impression) was never given much chance at a better life. His blessing was a kokum (grandmother) who seemed to love him unconditionally but she unfortunately was living in poverty, subject to the racism and negativity we have learned that faces
most indigenous people.

Joshua Whitehead really brought Jonny Appleseed’s character to life. The descriptions made my heart break. I connected with Jonny on a human level and empathized with him every step of the way.

I thought the book was lacking somewhat in “connectedness” of the different stories. It reads like a collection of days and major events in Jonny Appleseed’s life and I think the entire book could have been improved had the stories been more integrated. Not being in chronological order was not an issue. I enjoy books with loosely structured stories that don’t necessarily use a linear timeline.
Rather, it seemed the stories were too selective and disjointed with too many missing days and events. Leaving out things is fine but there was no attempt to use a common thread to tie things together so the reader understood why Jonny chose to write about these specific stories and events instead of others. In addition, Jonny discusses very little about his childhood or time spent with his mom even though the ending had him going to great lengths to get to her boyfriend’s funeral. If Whitehead had better wrapped together the stories/events chosen, I would have rated Jonny Appleseed higher. The novel was good but it felt a bit unfinished and disconnected.

Maybe this example will better explain my opinion. I enjoy figure skating. Many skaters have great jumps or spins but demonstrate minimal technique or art in the “in between” or “during joining time” between jumps and spins. It is the “whole package” that is important. The artistry in between the jumps and spins is as important as the jumps and spins. I think Joshua fell short in the overall story line and connectedness. There was enough good material available in this book to warrant a 4 star book. However due to lack of some story choices or explanation and lack of cohesiveness between those selected, the extrememly promising novel fell a bit short of what it “could have been” and I am rating the book 3 stars.

3 stars is a good rating for a debut novel and I felt Joshua Whitehead had all the bones available to achieve more stars. I am not sure if the decision was in editing or in a direction to Whitehead by others or a deliberate author choice, which of course is Whitehead's prerogative. Jonny Appleseed is a definitely a strong 3 star debut novel that is well worth reading.
Profile Image for Shirleynature.
200 reviews59 followers
May 3, 2021
Wow, I am so glad to know Jonny and everyone he loves! From his Kokum (grandmother), mom, to Tias his lover...

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead is a candid coming-of-age tale of bold queer trickster experiences and at times, sexually explicit. With much humor and heart-rending reflections of family, Jonny is a storyteller who dances forward and back in time as he reveals his struggles and triumphs—sprinkled with many pop culture references. Also semi-autobiographical, a powerful homage to the author’s great grandmother is thoughtfully woven in. This phenomenal work is recognized with the Lambda Literary Award; Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction, and the 2021 Canada Reads winner. Bravo to Canada Reads for championing Jonny Appleseed! Jonny as a character is an empowering "avatar" (talisman) for all queer communities and for every reader to become a better ally. Joshua Whitehead describes himself as a "Two-Spirit, Oji-nêhiyaw member of Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1)" north of Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada. I recommend listening to the author read his book, available as an eAudio. Whitehead is also a poet as well as an editor and contributor of Two-Spirit & Indigiqueer speculative fiction anthologies; discover more from this ambitious author, scholar, and activist at Joshua Whitehead's website.
https://www.joshuawhitehead.ca/about
Profile Image for Queralt✨.
355 reviews58 followers
September 25, 2021
Jonny, a young Two-Spirit queer Indigenous person, leaves the rez to make a life for himself in the city as a sex worker. The book has impeccable writing - is poetic but also crass, at times. The first-person narrative and how graphic the book is make the story very powerful.

I wasn't really expecting to like this book at all - it has a graphic sexual opening that threw me back. And though these types of scenes kept on coming, my feeling troubled and uncomfortable was not because of the sex itself, but at how Jonny is just seen as a sexual commodity of sorts.
Profile Image for Alanna Why.
Author 1 book116 followers
July 2, 2018
Like most queer lit, this book is SAD but also GOOD. I really liked the non-linear way it was told and how you really got to know the characters through the vignettes of Jonny's memory. The best part of this book is any scene with Jonny and his kokum because they LOVE EACH OTHER SO MUCH and it is VERY NICE.
Profile Image for Ashley Marie .
1,240 reviews385 followers
November 11, 2020
There's something incredibly special about an author reading their own work.

This is a slice-of-life tale about an Oji-Cree 2SQ (Two-Spirit queer) femme boy named Jonny. Throughout the book, he gives us snapshots of his life, from where he is now and where he's been. We meet his family and the people he surrounds himself with, particularly his beloved kokum. I was utterly absorbed in the whole thing, and having Joshua's voice in my ears truly brought Jonny's story to life. I've never read anything like this before.

I'm so excited for this to be my first read for Native Heritage Month; I need more indigenous literature in my life. If you read this, don't forget the author's note! (I love author's notes.)
Profile Image for LenaRibka.
1,427 reviews416 followers
April 9, 2019
31st Annual Lambda Literary Award Finalist



It was like reading a poem. Heartbreaking storytelling, a colorful mosaic of beautiful prose and raw reality, fragments of touching memories and tender spirituality, funny and sad at once.

A very impressive debut novel.
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