The latest in a line of culturally diverse LGBTQ titles from Arsenal that has included Lambda Literary Award winner God in Pink by Hasan Namir, a place called No Homeland by Kai Cheng Thom, and the works of Vivek Shraya.
The title character is a young queer First Nations man (“Two Spirit”) and self-described “NDN glitter princess” who is unapologetic about being a cybersex-worker who invokes “Indian” stereotypes as he helps other men get off. He has escaped his restricted life on the reserve and is living in the “big city” on the Canadian prairies, but must reconcile with his past traumas when he learns he must return to the reserve for his stepfather’s funeral. The novel takes place during the seven days prior to his return.
The novel functions in “NDN” time, meaning that each segment holds within it past, present, and future narratives. The story is about much more than his step-father’s death, who Jonny seems to care little for, and instead focuses more on how to live and love as an urban Indigiqueer in the now.
Joshua Whitehead is 28; his work reminds us of the controversial queer fiction title When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Reid, who was similar in age and whose main character is similarly incendiary and unapologetic. Joshua himself is an accomplished young writer and academic; his debut poetry book full-metal indigiqueer is being published by Talonbooks in fall 2017, and he is currently working on his PhD in Indigenous Literatures at the University of Calgary.
In writing Jonny Appleseed, Joshua was inspired in part by Raziel’s book. In Joshua’s words: “I love the fearlessness and fierceness that Reid exhibited with his storytelling and then with his defense of his novel [as a result of the controversy]. This was one of the stories I saw myself in and helped me to come into myself as a Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer person. This was my impetus behind writing my novel. I wanted to craft a book of mirrors for other Indigiqueer/Two-Spirit (2S) folks to see themselves in as well as to give a glimpse into the life of a 2S person living, loving, thriving, and surviving in the now: a narrative away from the mystical, pre-contact, queer utopias that often characterize and essentialize the term Two-Spirit for settler queers.”
The book will be marketed as an adult novel (due to its graphic content and language) but Joshua and we agree that mature young and new adults (15 and older) should be able to read it: “Initially I had written this novel for a mature teen audience. Ultimately, though, I wrote this for Indigiqueer and Indigenous youth to see themselves in, as a means to give them strength during times of need and depression. That being said, I think we live in a time when a person’s maturity depending on their age is fluid. Mature teens and youthful adults should and can read this book. I envision this text being read from 15+ but I do acknowledge the rather uncensored language that permeates Jonny’s vernacular, which is true to Jonny’s world. Any anxieties or fear around sex and language remains only the projected fear of adults and not children.”