Whitehead, Joshua. “Jonny Appleseed”, Arsenal Pulp, 2018.
A Two-Spirit Glitter Queen
Joshua White’s debut novel introduces us to a Two-Spirit Indigiqueer young man and proud NDN (Native American) glitter princess who must reckon with his past when he returns home to his reservation.
Off of the reservation Jonny becomes a cybersex worker who fetishizes himself in order to make a living. He seems to be constantly trying to find ways to live and love in the big city. He ordains himself as an NDN glitter princess. But things can change for Jonny when he goes home in a week to attend the funeral of his stepfather. We read here stories of love, trauma, sex, kinship, ambition, and the heartbreaking recollection of his beloved kokum (grandmother). Jonny’s life has been difficult and now he knows that before he can go home, he must find a way to put his life in order.
“Jonny Appleseed” is a look at First Nations life with all that comprises it. Jonny is sexy, powerful, broken hero Joshua Whitehead redefines what queer Indigenous writing can be as Jonny transcends tradition genre and brings the sacred and the sexual together to share queer Indigenous life. The characters here are complex and layered thus meaning that we cannot characterize who they really are but here that is a good thing.
The story comes to us via a nonlinear timeline that intentionally goes through past stories of family and tradition, trauma and survival and the descriptions of eroticism and the exploration of sexuality. The prose is stunning and the descriptions are vivid. What Whitehead does best here is how he has captured the experiences of those who are marginalized.
Those sections about Jonny’s relationship with friend and lover, Teas, achingly beautiful. There are also some very funny moments. This is truly a beautiful read.