Home is a feeling. That’s a line in the beautifully written Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead, a Two Spirit, Oji-Cree author. But it’s also something of a manifesto for Jonny, an indigiqueer young man whose physical body carries all the love, pain and connections to land and people in his life. Like a beautiful hermit crab, he builds a shell to protect himself from homophobia, from feeling the generations of pain in his family, from loving too much. And that same shell is bedecked with glorious scars and glitter, holding all his memories, his family’s memories, holding him together in one place and time no matter where he is. Jonny’s home is the rez, his Winnepeg apartment, the liminal space between worlds, genders and bodies. His story shakes us out of the binary option. He is both man and woman, deeply connected to a specific place but walking beyond its boundaries in time, dreams and visions. He looks at the meagre menu options and says, fuck it, I choose none of that.
He pays for the transgressions of boundaries, whether sexual, gender or place. He is very aware of the pain in his life, of those around him. But it doesn’t stop him. The loves in his life- his mother, his kokum (grandmother), his lover/friend Tias- are intense, not always pleasant, but always real.
The narrative time jumps between sifting through his past and the present day in which he’s trying to come up with enough cash to return home for his step dad’s funeral. It’s a scrapbook, an evening or two spent flicking through his past in an arch tone that acts as armour while his body makes him money as a web cam sex worker. He’s impervious to pain, he melts at a glance, he doesn’t give a shit, he cares so much it makes him ill. His boundaries are fluid, changing with his realisations, his moods. He owes no one an apology and yet he offers one of the most moving, ugly cry inducing apologies I’ve ever experienced in a book.
Yes, this story is sad. And funny. And sad. Like the author, the main character refuses to be pinned down. It’s a sensory trip. The smells- good and bad, sounds, pain and pleasures spill everywhere in gorgeous writing. I want to say Jonny holds nothing back- because of course the reader is made to feel it all. But he saves something for himself, away from people in his life and maybe from us too. I sense him slipping around this world’s corners, keeping his own mysteries.
When I was in my 20’s and had to move places, I procrastinated until it happened all at once, at the last possible minute. Clothes flung into trash bags, a horror at the odds and ends of my messy life. Knick knacks falling out behind me as I left. The inevitable vows -never fulfilled, of course- to live a cleaner simpler life. In a word, Unprepared. And this book is like that. A complicated, layered telling of someone going home to a new place in their life, memories and feelings trailing behind him, unlikely promises flung out ahead.