Jonny Appleseed follows a young Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer person living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Having left the Rez years prior, Jonny receives news that his step-father has passed away. Broke and wary of returning home, Jonny must quickly come up with the funds to travel home to be with his mother. In doing so, Jonny aggressively turns to his work as a prostitute/sex-worker. While the majority of his jobs come from private shows over social media, he does take the odd “traditional” job with a few of his regular clients.
As Jonny attempts to come up with the funds over the next seven days, he takes the reader on a journey through various points in his life as he discovers his sexuality while also dealing with the unfortunate ramifications of leading a lifestyle deemed horrendous by many in his family and community.
There are many heartbreaking moments in this book, many of which deal with Jonny’s tumultuous relationship with his first love, Tias. While Jonny was lucky enough to have support from both his grandmother (Kokum) and his mother, Tias received a great deal more resistance from his family – especially his father. Their years-long relationship takes up the bulk of the story.
It’s hard to believe this is Whitehead’s first novel. While he has a wealth of experience with poetry, his prose flowed really well and made the often jangled timeline easily accessible and digestible even with the challenging and raw subject matter, even if it did seem a bit rambly and unfocused at times.
I thought this is an important read in the sense that Jonny Appleseed isn’t the type of story that gets told often, at least not with as wide an audience afforded to it by being part of a national book competition. Although I complained about having to do so in a prior review, I think readers should take a step out of their comfort zone once in a while, just to expose themselves to new genres and authors. Not only does it give you an opportunity to try something new, it also instills empathy for a group of people that you may only know a small amount about.