Jonny is an open wound: raw, glistening, spilling over, and beautiful in a way that makes you unable to turn away even though you should. It’s a wound sustained from getting too drunk at a casino and crashing through a plate glass window. It glitters, it throbs, and it is going to be expensive to clean up. He invites us into his life like a tornado introduces itself to a neighborhood. We crash through, turning everything on end at a break-neck pace. Jonny is the creation of Joshua Whitehead, a young Two-Spirit storyteller. Joshua, like Jonny, identifies as both Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer. They are both Oji-Cree, and both grew up on Pegius First Nation territory in Manitoba.
I cannot speculate as to how far the similarities between Jonny and Joshua continue, but Joshua writes with a brutally honest voice that it is nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction. Jonny feels so real; you can smell him on the page. He is an absolute mess, and it refreshing to see a three-dimensional portrait of a young person on the fringe. Jonny straddles the line between the Rez and the city, child and friend, caretaker and hanger-on, and man and woman. We have been presented countless times with depictions of white youth spiraling out while remaining protected by their privilege- those kids are given series orders at HBO and critics spend decades writing think pieces about how they have become the “voices of generations”. It’s high time that we get Jonny’s voice. Jonny’s is the voice of a generation still reeling from the injustices done to their ancestors (and current relatives) that will also blow all of their rent money on luxury makeup and 7-11 hotdogs.
Problem is, have no money. I spent it all on some bronzer and banana powder at Sephora-I’m big into contouring these days
I hear you, Jonny! We all make irrational and irresponsible choices sometimes, and those choices have very little to do with our upbringing or identities. He comes from a world of pain, abuse, and poverty- but he also comes from a world of tradition, strong women, community, and celebration. Jonny’s haphazard approaches to love, sex, and friendship may be colored by his past experiences, but he is not just a patchwork doll made of inherited trauma. He is funny, creative, and self-aware. He is happy in mascara, resplendent eating a Big Mac, and dedicated to his fierce grandma. He is frank when describing sex and all of the rush, mess, and let-down within. He does not hold himself accountable for his actions, but he also does not blame those that have done him wrong in the past for theirs. Jonny’s sexuality is an enormous part of the story, but it is not the only characteristic that makes him who he is.
Creator, he made you for a reason- you girl and you boy and that’s fine with me, but what’s not fine is you selling yourself short. You gotta leave if you wanna survive, and when you do you’re gonna need the steadiness of those hands, m’boy. You’re gonna need a rock and a whole lotta medicine
Jonny Appleseed jumps around quite a bit; it is all in Jonny’s voice, but sometimes it is difficult to discern from where or when Jonny is speaking. He shares the story of his life, and one moment we’re with him and his best friend and bed before suddenly jumping back to the two of them as younger teens on camping trip. Jonny’s sexual escapades sometimes bookend memories of young childhood, and it can be confusing to place yourself in space as Jonny’s voice never changes. The context clues can be few and far between, leading to the need to re-read passages a few times over to make sure that no, an eight-year-old is not currently entertaining clients found on hookup apps. Either way, the disorganized approach suits the voice of Jonny.
Reading Jonny Appleseed feels like sitting next to an intense but intriguing stranger at a party. You went to the bar to refill your drink and spent the next few hours drawn into this person’s life that is too full of detail to be fake, but too extreme to be entirely truthful (you hope). I look forward to hearing more from Joshua Whitehead, and I look forward to seeing more streams-of-consciousness from folks of all walks of life.