Book review: Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

The title Jonny Appleseed is fitting. So many callbacks. ‘Apple’ is a slur. If you don’t know what it means, I’ll let the book explain it.

The song ‘Jonny Appleseed’ is sung before meals, usually by Christians and usually if there are lots of kids around. Maybe slipping in a reference to apple seeds makes religion fun for kids. I always thought it was weird. The weirdness of western religion in Indigenous culture is referenced in this book, with the idea of ‘Jonny Appleseed’ as a way in.

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead is an intimate story about a young Indigenous man’s search for meaning. In it, he describes relationships with family and friends, both on the reservation and in the city. The narrator’s self-discovery as a person identifying as two-spirited, and his exploration of the body as an object, possession and spiritual tool, move the story forward to an emotionally powerful ending.

Joshua doesn’t hold back in his descriptions of the narrator’s sex life and body parts. I thought: how ballsy. The body is nothing to be ashamed of. Equally brave are the descriptions of Jonny’s traumatic life events. Being a person isn’t the same experience for everyone. Exposing this is important. If you don’t know how other people are treated for the way they are, then you don’t know it’s a problem that exists in the world that needs to be put right. There’s a lot that needs putting right.

I found Jonny Appleseed moving, intimate, and open. The pace is so quick and engaging, I had trouble putting it down. The world needs more books like Jonny Appleseed in its bookshelves.

Get it on Apple Books