Jonny’s stepdad has died and he needs to get back to his hometown in time for the funeral. Only problem is that he’s short on cash. Or, as Jonny would frame it, he needs to turn some tricks real quick to get enough cash to hitch back to the rez.
Joshua Whitehead is a two spirit Obji-Cree author who, like his main character in the novel, grew up on a reservation in Manitoba before making his way to the big city lights of Winnipeg. Jonny Appleseed, his second book, is much lauded- long-listed for the Giller Prize, short-listed for the Governor General’s Literary Award and selected as the Canada Reads book for this year. Despite being a slim novel, it takes a round-about way with plot, concerned as much with letting Jonny show us who he is as he mulls over life decisions that have led him to the ‘Peg (one of Winnipeg’s nicknames) and what is waiting for him back home on the reservation. Jonny does not spare the gritty details of his sex-work, which he cranks up to earn the cash he needs to travel home. He spends a lot of time thinking about the support and love he got from his family, particularly his grandmother. We see how his clients fetishize his ‘NDN’ness as they are looking for a quick trick.
The downsides for me were the stream of consciousness style (I’m drawn to more plot-heavy novels) and the heavy detail on the stickier, grittier, physical descriptions of Jonny’s sex work. Having said that, I wasn’t bothered as much by them here, possibly because Jonny’s voice is so clear and he is such an endearing character. They also didn’t seem as superfluous as they can in other novels- this was Jonny telling us who he was.
The plus side, which far outweighed these downsides, was the sense of hopefulness and resilience and the love that leaped off the page between Jonny and his mom and grandma. Parts of his life could have been presented as so bleak, but the way Whitehead wrote it didn’t make it feel that way. There was joy, love, purpose, hope and an acceptance of self- all of which come back to me as I write this review months later.