This story follows a witty, young Native American man named Jonny Appleseed, member of the Peguis First Nation, who has left the reservation to live in the big city of Winnipeg. There, Jonny reinvents himself and runs his own business as a cybersex worker, in which he fetishizes himself via webcam to earn a living. As the story begins, Jonny has just received the news that his Stepfather Roger has passed away and he has only seven days to earn enough cash to return to the Rez for the funeral.
What follows is a brief, non-linear peak into Jonny’s life as he recalls memories of his strong, no-nonsense Kokum (his Grandmother), his mother, his homophobic stepfather, and his relationship with Tias. During the novel, we flash back and forth from Jonny’s life back on the Reservation to the present where he is working as a sex worker and maintaining his romantic yet complicated relationship with Tias, with whom he’s been friends/lovers with since childhood.
Through Jonny’s first-person narrative, we explore such issues as racism, anti-gay violence, friendship, love, loss, Native American identity, trauma, the challenges of being “Indigiqueer” (identifying as both Indigenous and queer), sexual awakening and most of all, survival.
In this way, the story is sometimes a bit harrowing and cringeworthy, while other times tender, funny and beautiful. This is a real, relevant, and eye-opening book — an intense yet beautiful story written for voices that need to be heard. Jonny Appleseed is a sincere, honest story about a person’s growth despite sometimes seemingly suffocating racism and homophobia.
I especially enjoyed the intimate passages where Jonny reflects upon his life with Tias — how they met, how they became lovers and friends, and the somewhat strange relationship they maintain in the present day. There was also plenty of laugh-out-loud humor in this story, especially revolving around Jonny and his Kokum.
Overall, I found Jonny Appleseed to be a refreshing, brilliant work that’s gorgeously expressive and poetic yet with a certain rawness to it that makes it real and relatable for the reader. I felt that the author does a superb job taking us back into the mind of our two-spirit protagonist. I also liked how the story came together in the end, with everything wrapping up nicely during the last few pages. Overall, an impactful, diverse and important book from a great author. Recommended!
Warning: Given that our protagonist earns a living as a sex worker, there are quite a few graphic descriptions of sexual situations and profanity — so more sensitive readers be warned.