Thursday 10 February 2022

Jonny Appleseed by: Joshua Whitehead

Genre: Fiction, LGBT 

Published: May 15, 2018 by: Arsenal Pulp Press

Pages: 224 

Rating: 5/5 stars 

CW: references to residential schools and inter-generational trauma, addiction, homophobia, fetishization of Indigenous people, abuse 

While on the way to his stepfather's funeral, Jonny Appleseed, a Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer young adult recounts his childhood and all that led him to where he is today. Jonny flashes back to when he first realized he was gay, his first love, and a life influenced by inter-generational trauma that has led him to fetishize himself on dating websites in order to make money. Jonny left the reservation for the big city, but his return will bring back past memories and reignite the respect he has for his beloved grandmother, his kokum. 

I've had to read this book a couple of times: once for pleasure and the other time for school. I found that when I had to read the book for school and I was able to talk through my feelings of the book with other students, it resonated with me even more. Reading from Indigenous queer authors, or Indigiqueer authors as Whitehead puts it, isn't something that I always dive into. However, Jonny's story touches on so many topics that I couldn't help but find some sort of connection to it. It was an emotional coming of age story, and I can see myself recommending this book for years to come. 

To start, the plot in and of itself is quite simple. The book takes place on Jonny's journey back to the reservation, and this is a time of self reflection for him as he recounts what his childhood was like. There isn't much present action that takes place, as the book has a significant amount of flashbacks. But in Jonny's flashbacks, his present self becomes all the more clear to the reader. Whitehead does a really cool thing where he uses Jonny's past to talk about Jonny's present, and the transition of time is made really clear in how Jonny's relationship with his friends and family changes. 

Something that Whitehead talks a lot about in interviews is how Jonny as a character can be reflected through his own life experiences. While the book is by no means autobiographical, Whitehead's own identity of an Indigiqueer person is certainly influenced in Jonny's way of life. Own voices novels are so important, especially when themes of coming of age are so prevalent. I couldn't help but see the authenticity of Jonny's life experiences and how Whitehead took care to share an important, emotional and authentic story. 

This book doesn't have a main action take place, or a main problem that the main character has to solve. However, it becomes clear to the reader that Jonny is at a transformative moment in his life, in which he needs to reflect on the person he has become and who he wants to be. A lot of the topics in this book are hard, because they hit on inter-generational trauma that many Indigenous teens and young adults know too well. Jonny's quest to simply survive has impacted how he feels about his own Indigenous identity. It's not an easy read despite the book being easy to follow in structure, so please do take care to read the content warnings. However, I think this book is a staple for those who want to read more books by queer authors, and especially those who want to see how gender and sexuality is explored in Indigenous communities. 

Have you read Jonny Appleseed? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess


  1. I hadn't heard of this one - sounds uber-cool! :)

  2. I haven't heard of this one before but I'm all for stories that feel quietly transformative! Will have to add this too my tbr for the future!

    riv @ dearrivarie

    1. I hope you're able to read it, Riv! Quietly transformative is a great way to put it :)